Russia is hosting the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014, and UK construction should seize the day – with a little help from the British government, says Lord Davies of Abersoch
When Russia hosts its first Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi in 2014 it will be a chance for UK construction to make inroads into that country in a way it never has before.
We all know what pressure the global economic climate has put on the construction sector – and Russia is no more immune than anywhere else. But the Sochi Games represent a seam of opportunity that British companies can continue to mine through the hard times.
UK companies have established an enviable reputation for expertise in delivering infrastructure and services that make world-class events possible. This has been proven in the delivery of events on home turf, such as the Grand Prix or the Manchester Commonwealth Games, and on behalf of other nations – like the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The town of Sochi, on a virtually undeveloped plain in the Krasnodar region, must transform itself into a first-class Olympic venue with a supporting hospitality and transport infrastructure. Much of this must be delivered well before February 2014.
The considerable direct and indirect investment required to achieve this will make Sochi one of the most dynamic components of the Russian economy and, as with London 2012, a catalyst for wider regeneration.
According to the most recent Russian estimate, the 200 projects required to stage the Sochi Games will cost more than $10bn (£7.2bn). Other non-direct investment projects to provide infrastructure are equivalent to $28bn, and it is these that are likely to provide the most openings for UK companies.
In fact, a number of British firms have already won contracts to work on the Games. Meanwhile, MOCT, one of Russia’s largest civil engineering contractors, has signed a multimillion pound contract with JCB to buy plant for the transport infrastructure.
Those attracted by the lure of Olympic gold must engage with issues such as communication, culture and regulation in a local context. Nobody should run away with the idea that Russia is an easy market
I know from firms involved in London 2012 that contracts linked to major sporting events are more important than ever in the current climate – in some cases they can be lifelines. I want us to seize every opportunity, and UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), the government’s international business development organisation, is committed to supporting UK companies in this. On 17 March we will publish our report, Building Krasnodar, which will help to identify areas of particular opportunity for British expertise, such as planning, project management, cost management, technical advice and design.
But the report also addresses the challenges to be navigated. Those attracted by the lure of Olympic gold must engage with issues like communication, business culture and regulation in a local context. Nobody should run away with the idea that Russia is an easy market.
UKTI’s Construction and Global Sports Projects teams can help UK companies access an unrivalled network of overseas contacts. It can help them assess how best to participate and match their capabilities with opportunities on the ground.
During the first week of March, Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee, welcomed to Russia a UKTI delegation of 40 people representing some 20 British businesses from sectors including financial and legal services, branding and architecture. Mr Chernyshenko acknowledged the remarkable pedigree of UK companies as some of the world’s best delivery partners.
We must welcome the invitation to excel that the Sochi Olympiad offers to us. And we must remember that it is not a one-off. From London 2012 to the Brazil 2014 World Cup – Britain has and will demonstrate vast cross-sectoral expertise which we must continue to leverage.
Now, more than ever, we must not overlook opportunities that play to our strengths.
Lord Davies of Abersoch is minister for trade and investment