• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

My 2014: 'This is going to be a fantastic event ... even though I applied for tickets like everyone else and didn't get any ...'

THERE are one or two things already pencilled in to David Grevemberg's diary for January.

Maybe even three or four. There's the little matter of Glasgow 2014 - the organisation of which he is chief executive - getting the keys to the athletes' village in a week or two. Then there is the visit of the chefs de mission (the various Commonwealth athletics team leaders) at the end of the month to check out the facilities.

There is also the ongoing baton relay, which has now arrived in Africa. And then there is the ongoing primary track installation at Hampden. Oh, and a couple of months further down the line there is the small matter of ramping up Glasgow 2014's human resources side. The best part of 45,000 people - contractors, employees, volunteers - will ultimately be under Grevemberg's management. So, no ­pressure, then.

"All of that focuses the mind," Grevemberg admits. "But it's also very exciting."

Understandably, this year is shaping up to be a "defining moment" for Grevemberg. Since he took over as chief executive in September 2011, in the wake of his predecessor John Scott's resignation after breaking rules over accepting gifts and hospitality from a potential supplier, Grevemberg has been the man responsible for ensuring that the Commonwealth Games arrives on time, within budget, sells tickets and meets its social targets.

So far, so good. Already, more than 90% of the Games tickets have been snapped up and more than 50,000 people applied to be among the 15,000 Games volunteers (or Clydesiders, as they will be known); a greater number of applicants than both the Manchester 2002 and Melbourne 2006 Games managed.

And he is optimistic about what lies ahead: "This is going to be a fantastic event that celebrates sport and culture and brings people together like never before. We're going to do it our way, we're going to do it a distinctive way and we're going to do it in a Glasgow way."

He would say that, of course. That's his job. But what does he know about the "Glasgow way", you might ask. Now in his late 30s, he was born and brought up in New Orleans, and you can still hear the soft pull of that place in his accent.

Actually, he says, Glasgow is a city that reminds him of his hometown. "It has a real honesty to it. It has range. It has diversity. It has good, great, bad and ugly. I think that's what gives it its character. But at the same time it has tremendous ambition and pride."

Maybe, he admits, there is some anxiety in there too. "But I think it's a city that's not afraid of standing true to its principles and I've really fallen in love with the character of the city and its people. When I first came here in 2009, I started to discover the idiosyncrasies of its history. It's been a city that's sought to go places and is constantly redefined. It doesn't have anything holding it back from its ambition, whether it's been in engineering and shipbuilding to now energy, sport and culture. It really transforms itself and morphs into its passions and that's one of the reasons I came here. To use sport and culture as a way of transforming and building ambition around the city was something I wanted to be part of."

In conversation, Grevemberg makes all the noises you would expect from a chief executive. But behind the corporate-speak and the can-do optimism you sense ­someone who is committed to the idea of sport and culture as a transformative vehicle. Maybe that is because he has gone through that experience himself.

Even before he was an Olympic hopeful in wrestling (a hope that ended in the run-up to the 1996 Olympics with a rupture to his anterior ligaments), he talks about the arrival of Expo 84 in New Orleans as opening his eyes to the world. He was 12 at the time and "all these pavilions of the world gave me a complete fascination and interest in global things, whether it was music or food. The city was given a chance to be what it was and look at the good, the bad and the ugly and say, 'Wow, this is what we are and this is what we stand for'. And it came out of it with a renewed sense of self-confidence."

He has seen the same process at work around the world at the various Olympics down the years. In Beijing in 2008, he saw the Paralympics opening up China's urban environment to become more accessible and inclusive. Now it's Glasgow's turn.

"And to be part of a city that's ambitious at a time of great anxiety across the world, to be part of a city that's going places, is magic. It helps me get out of bed each morning because we're part of something that means so much to so many people."

The highs have been obvious. What about lows? "Having to assume the role of acting chief executive when John Scott resigned was probably the toughest moment - knowing that we needed to ensure this organisation was going in the right direction and making sure we were taking everyone with us."

Presumably the fact that he had worked with Scott made that all the more difficult? "I'd known John for 10 years and that's hard.."

Grevemberg speaks enthusiastically about the social contract that is part of the Commonwealth Games, the requirement for sponsors and suppliers to take on apprentices or enhance young people's skill sets. There is real value in that, but in the end it's possibly not what the legacy of the Games will be judged on.

Just before we meet, it emerged that one of London 2012's organisers, Debbie Jevans, director of sport, said they had "missed a trick" on grassroots sporting participation as figures emerged suggesting that sporting participation has actually declined since London 2012.

Grevemberg says: "I talk about legacy quite often. People ask, 'What's the legacy of the Games?' and I say, 'It's really up to you', in the sense that legacy isn't done to you, it's done by us. So if we're inspired to eat more healthily or be more active or use the new facilities or work differently, then that's the legacy of the Games."

That sounds like an austerity answer if you ask me. If we live in a country with low public funding for sporting participation (and high private gym membership costs), what difference will the Games make? He thinks the answer is obvious: "You've created an environment where you've got infrastructural enhancements, you've got really positive messaging and focus on the benefits of sport."

It has been transformative for him and his family at any rate - his two children now have Scottish accents. "That's a legacy of the Games itself. They call Scotland home now."

He's not giving anything away about the opening ceremony, saying only that it will speak to Glasgow and Scotland and say: "This is who we are. Welcome."

At which point he can presumably relax and enjoy himself. How many tickets did he get? "I didn't get any. I applied like everyone else, and we didn't get any tickets. That's the reality of a fair process."

Tickets to the Games apart, David Grevemberg has a busy diary over the next few months. And what has he written in for the weeks after the Games finish? "I will figure out that when it comes."

Contextual targeting label: 
Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

203585