Gold up for grabs after the Games

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 August, 2008, 12:00am

As elite athletes and sports fans converged on Sydney for the Olympics eight years ago, representatives from the Australian design firm Woodhead International were sitting down to lunch at a business networking event with Singapore Airlines executives and officials from the city state's government.

At some point, the conversation turned to plans for the interiors of Singapore's new Changi Airport terminal. Building on its experience in a similar job for the Sydney International Airport, Woodhead put in a tender for the Changi contract and won against major international competition. Two Olympiads down the track, the company has major project credits throughout Asia, including China. The opportunities began with an international sporting event and snowballed from there.

According to Austrade chief economist Tim Harcourt, Woodhead is an example of a company that has used the Games as a springboard for building a brand beyond home shores.

Going the Distance, Harcourt's new book launched in Beijing last week to coincide with the 2008 Games, offers an Australian-centric look at global economic and trade issues, and the way sport has forged links for antipodean companies.

The book's first chapter on the economics of special events will probably have the most direct relevance to mainland exporters hoping to piggyback on these two weeks of overseas attention. Harcourt says that while it is essential not to overhype the advantages of hosting global sporting events: 'It is clear that there are some 'spillover' benefits to international market entry, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises.'

Harcourt cites Austrade research that suggests half of all exporters come across export opportunities by chance and sporting events are a fertile time for attempts to bring potential partners together.

While Harcourt's examples focus on the ways Australians have moved with global trade currents, it does raise questions about what will be the 2008 Games' commercial legacy. The sporting goods empire of retired champion gymnast Li Ning is a household brand on the mainland, but will his spectacular 'run' as the final torch-bearer at Friday's opening ceremony be what the company needs to get a flicker of recognition and interest from consumers elsewhere? Can more of the country's former sportsmen and women use their overseas experience to build international businesses outside the sporting arena? Can firms supplying goods and services to these Games go on to, say, build infrastructure for the 2012 Olympics in London?

It is Austrade's job to be optimistic about the overseas potential of Australian business and, parochialism aside, it is hard not to be caught up in Harcourt's enthusiasm. Going the Distance is a readable series of articles and even has pictures - think Freakonomics in a soft-back picture book.