The logistics of organizing the world’s biggest event

Organizing the Rio 2016 Olympics involves much more than just getting the venues ready — the secret to success is in the details.

A Brazilian flag flies overhead with the city of Rio de Janeiro in the distance

Involving 10,500 athletes from 206 nations, and over 6 million tickets for attendees, the Olympic Games see the eyes of the world turn to the host city in the expectation of entertainment, emotion and celebration of human athletic achievement. With fixed deadlines, high pressure on the organizers, and billions of dollars of investment and revenue at stake, delivering on those expectations is a logistical challenge far beyond that encountered by most organizations.

To make the Rio 2016 Olympics successful involves far more than simply making sure the venues are ready. Beyond the stadiums, host cities need to ensure there is enough accommodation for the millions of visitors, sufficient city-wide infrastructure to help them reach events on time without interrupting ongoing day-to-day activities, as well as a host of small but important factors that could be easy to overlook.

Even ignoring the broader, city-wide infrastructure investment that went into Rio ahead of the games, the core logistics for the main Olympic venues and accommodation for the athletes were daunting for logistics planners. “People have no idea what is involved in the Rio Olympics,” says Paulo Felippe Senior Consultant at EY in Brazil. “They think ‘It’s just games, people playing volleyball,’ but it’s not that simple. They don’t think you need mattresses, tables, chairs, towels and so on for all the people involved. There are lots of things happening. It’s difficult to even think about the scale.”

“In Rio, we had seven football matches during the 2014 World Cup,” says Rafael Marinho, Senior Manager in Supply Chain & Operations at EY in Brazil. “In just one day of the 2016 Olympic Games we will have more people in Rio than for all those matches put together. The level of complexity is completely different.”

With an unmissable deadline to the start of the games on 5 August 2016, there was no room for error — and the need to identify requirements, source suppliers and arrange delivery and storage for so many different elements, all on time and to budget, made sure the pressure was even greater.

“After we got to grips with the size and complexity of the project we didn’t really run into any major problems,” says Marinho.” And, this was despite the challenges thrown up by the radical changes that were occurring in the Brazilian economy during the course of the project.

By assessing core needs, and working to understand the details as well as the scale of the requirements, and developing crisis plans early on, the team was able to help develop a project management framework  and risk mitigation plan robust enough to allow the organizers to adapt, evolve and deliver.

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