Lisa Hindson is one of the world’s leading sports event planners and operators: the Australian worked as Head of Games Operations for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and has several decades of experience across the IOC, IPC, organizing committees, bid committees, international and national sport federations. She is now an advisor to GEF for the Istanbul 2022 Global Esports Games and beyond.
How did you get into the world of major event planning?
I did phys ed as an undergrad then had a role at an event called the Australia Games in 1985. I was inspired by the athletes and the energy in the city: I thought, “This is what I want to do.” So I went to the US and studied sports management. That gave me a connection to the US Olympic Committee and I ended up working at Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. Then, when Sydney 2000 was elected, they were learning from Atlanta, and, as the only Australian involved for a while, they connected with me. The IOC was starting to develop its Games planning framework after Sydney, and I was recruited, eventually becoming Head of Games Operations.
What did you enjoy about the role?
I loved the multi-sport, the buzz of the people, the competition. And I’m not an artistic person but I loved the creativity of developing and documenting planning approaches such as technical guides and schedules, working with each organizer to adapt to the local context, sharing, connecting and always learning. The IOC role was very diverse. I had a portfolio of 10 to 15 different functions, from venue operations to transport, across up to four organizing committees, so I was working with lots of different people. The variety made it exciting and it’s about teamwork and building relationships.
How do you cope with the sheer amount of plate-spinning this job must involve?
I’m just an annoyingly organized person! I love detail. I’m also pretty simple. I like the basic old whiteboard as I’m quite a visual person. Overall, you’ve got to stay on task, and also be flexible. There are a thousand ways to do things, and people bring their own experience and approaches to each new project or organizing committee.
You’ve helped create a blueprint for numerous events through your work.
Some people would say I’m an over-documenter but a lot of the documentation I’ve been involved in developing is the basis for many future games. The learning is in the process of development, working with colleagues and delivery partners, and you then have an outcome that can become a training tool.
Did that lead to lots of different work?
Yes. It gave me the springboard to other projects when I left the IOC in 2007 – with organizing committees, bid committees and federations like GEF – and the IOC has also contracted me ever since.
You worked on Rio’s successful bid to get the Olympic Games in 2016.
That was hard work – like any bid – but also really fun, an unbelievable experience. A new culture, new people, a new way of life, a new way of working. And they won! I remember the celebrations.
What attracted you to working with GEF?
I relate to GEF’s values. Encouragement, support, connecting, that is what I do in my world. I’m not someone who likes to be up front, my satisfaction is from helping and enabling people achieve what they want to achieve in their home country or city. And I’ve known Paul [J. Foster] since Sydney 2000. He was also on the organizing committee and then we worked at the IOC together. Six months ago, he asked if I could come on as an advisor, to support the global events team, and I’m pleased to be part of the team.
What does the support involve?
I started by developing a generic framework, then we work with the event organizers to apply it to their context. The GEF has identified a vision, and I’m helping to turn that high-level, overarching outlook into concrete plans to deliver. We create a generic masterplan and schedule, work with the organizers to contextualize it, and then we track and monitor it. If there are issues, we follow up and provide support. It’s about getting all the right pieces in place, at the right time.
How tricky can this kind of work get?
For the Olympic Games, I’ve faced all kinds of issues. I remember in Atlanta, we had a venue opening before it had a fence – so suddenly security became challenging. But losing sleep doesn’t put a fence up. So it’s about working out what you can or can’t do – and working as a team.
What have you learned about esports since getting involved with GEF?
I’m not a gamer, and maybe my thoughts on esports were based around stereotypes before I got involved. But there is always an opportunity to learn something new, and it’s been fascinating. His Royal Highness Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, GEF Vice-President, told me that to join the Saudi Arabian esports team, a player must have done a certain number of hours in the gym, and a certain number of mental health sessions. I think that’s fantastic, and could well apply in other sports.
How much are you looking forward to Istanbul 2022?
I’m excited. What GEF does generally is amazing and they have moved very quickly. Lots of cities want to host these events, and GEF has established credibility and created a platform for the gamers who haven’t had those opportunities before. Cities with different cultures and characters will each bring something special through the GEF festival, too. Including Istanbul!