Planner Spotlight: A Gala of Olympic Proportions

The volunteers are hounding David Beckham for autographs. The front desk doesn't know if Hillary Clinton or the Queen of Spain should get the presidential suite. And Muhammad Ali wants room service, pronto! Just another day in Singapore this past July at the 117th session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), where London was announced as the host of the 2012 Summer Games.

Planning for this historic gathering, which drew 5,000 attendees to the Lion City, began in March 2002, says Sajid Hanifa, assistant director for sports business at the Singapore Sports Council and one of the major organizers. "As you can imagine, there were many challenges," he adds. For instance, the Raffles City Complex, where the meeting took place, has over 75,000 square feet of meeting space, which "sounded like a lot when we started out, but we ended up having to convert sleeping rooms into meeting rooms!"

Another challenge was figuring out VIP accommodations. "We didn't know in advance who was attending from which country," says Hanifa. "In fact, we only found out four weeks beforehand that Jacques Chirac, Tony Blair, and Hillary Clinton were coming," which led to numerous security and logistics challenges. An initial proposal to house all VIPs in one hotel was scrapped after organizers realized that "if you put all five presidents or prime ministers in one hotel, who gets the presidential suite?" (Singapore eventually solved this conundrum by letting the candidate cities take care of VIP arrangements on their own.)

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Technology, of course, was a major issue. IOC requirements dictated that three 22-feet-high, 16-feet-wide TV screens be onstage, but those dimensions left no ceiling clearance, says Hanifa, and as a result Panasonic had to fly in special engineers from Japan, who spent two months working out a way to meet these specifications. Also, since the announcement was broadcast live to a worldwide TV audience of many millions, a continuous power supply was a must. "It became a problem to have the air conditioning on at the same time as the live feeds," says Hanifa. "We had to add generators and additional wiring to create three fail-safe backup systems that would kick on in case of a power loss."

That's not to mention attendees' health issues. "We had 10 medical incidents per day, from food poisoning to sprained elbows," recalls Hanifa. "Henry Kissinger had a foot problem, but our standby medical team got to him in five minutes. He was so pleased that he told everyone, which was great PR for Singapore."

Lion's Share Over 300 volunteers, from students to senior citizens, were on hand to help out, which led to unforeseen situations. At one point, Hanifa got a call complaining that volunteers were "chasing" the VIPs for photos and autographs. He decided to take a wait-and-see attitude. "It turned out the celebrities enjoyed the attention," he says, "and so, some of the volunteers went home with pictures of themselves and Hillary!"