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  • Tuesday Talk - Jon Tibbs on Russian International Olympic University


    (ATR) Olympic bid consultant Jon Tibbs tells Around the Rings he expects his course on brand-building and communications to be the start of great things to come for Russian International Olympic University.
    Jon Tibbs on day one of the RIOU's first-ever international course. (ATR)

    Tibbs spoke to Around the Rings from Sochi, where he is partway through teaching "Building Brand and Communications" to students from the National Olympic Committees of Armenia, Jordan, Serbia, South Korea, Ukraine and USA as well as Sochi 2014, the Kazan 2013 Universiade, the Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation, the Bosnian Ice Hockey Federation and PROsport magazine.

    Read on for his progress report on the RIOU, its inaugural international course and Sochi 2014's legacy so far.

    Around the Rings: Tell me a bit about the course and how it’s going so far.

    Jon Tibbs: The Russian International Olympic University is obviously one of the legacy projects announced by President Vladimir Putin and IOC President Jacques Rogge together in Beijing. It’s going to have a dedicated, very modern, sophisticated campus in the center of Sochi. It’s being built at the moment, but the work of the University in terms of building academic courses has already begun.

    I’m proud to be running the first-ever international course, which is on brand-building and international communications for sports organizations. It’s a two-week course, and we’ve got 20 delegates from 11 countries. They include National Olympic Committees, international federations, national governing bodies – we’ve got a real mix from inside the Olympic Movement.
    So far, it’s gone really well.

    ATR: What’s been the highlight so far?
    National Olympic Committees, international federations, organizing committees and national governing bodies are all represented among the course's 20 students. (RIOU)

    JT: The highlight so far was having the senior vice president of Sochi 2014, Igor Stolyarov. He came in and gave a really great and inspiring presentation on brand-building for the Sochi brand and how the logo and the brand and the whole Look of the Games for Sochi 2014 was conceived and developed. That was great for the theory to come into practice, and that’s what we took from that.

    ATR: Do you expect this course to be the start of great things to come for the RIOU?

    JT: I absolutely do. I think this course proves that an Olympic city like Sochi can capture all the learning that it is developing and bring its experts together and develop academic courses that deliver sustainable practical solutions to the international and Russian sports industries. This works because it is based on real-time experience.

    I think there is something very exciting about the RIOU being in a host city where you can feel and almost touch the Olympic atmosphere. It is everywhere.

    ATR: In terms of legacy, how valuable is the RIOU as an early embodiment of Olympic values within Sochi itself?

    JT: I think it’s a really important embodiment of what Sochi stands for.

    Sochi 2014 is very much about developing sustainable change in Russia across a number of areas. That change will then inspire the world and inspire further change in Russia.

    Sustainable change means in areas such as creating greater inclusivity for people with disabilities, and that’s already happening across Russia now. It includes creating volunteer culture through the Games, which is already happening now in Russia. And it also includes better training and better awareness of Olympism and more sophisticated ability to handle running major sports events and using the Games as a way of really improving the quality of not just running major sports events but in other areas of business as well such as sponsorship and corporate governance and transparency and areas such as that.

    The University has a very big role to play in driving this sustainable change that the Games have promised, and I think having an academic institution to drive this is a really great thing.

    ATR: How’s construction coming on the actual campus?
    An artist's rendering of the completed campus. (RIOU)

    JT: Construction has begun. There are four huge cranes now which dominate the skyline in the center of Sochi. Obviously, a lot of the cranes and the construction work for Sochi are on the outskirts of the Olympic Park. Well, this is one of the bigger construction sites.

    The foundations are all in place now, and I think you’re going to start seeing the stories, the floors being built from now on in.

    ATR: Can the RIOU be a model for future host cities to utilize?

    JT: I think that’s entirely possible. I think it might certainly be something for every host city to look at, but what’s interesting for Russia obviously is that Sochi decided that the Games would be this catalyst of change throughout Russia and therefore the University would be one of the symbols of that but also an agent of change, a driver of change throughout the whole of Russia and also the rest of the world.

    So maybe Russia’s priorities were perfectly suited for the creation of a University, and maybe that’s why it will be such a success.

    ATR: What do you see as the ultimate role of the RIOU?

    JT: I see the ultimate goal as becoming one of the most recognized if not the most recognized and most respected academic institution in sports and helping the people of Russia, the neighboring nations and the rest of the world really develop and improve their professionalism in all areas of sports administration and organizing sports events.

    And at the next level, if you like, incubating great ideas and best practices and helping inspire the next generation to think differently and think outside the box and develop great ways of making sport an agent of change and making sport a way of becoming more sustainable in both environmental terms but also in terms of socioeconomics.

    I think in that sense the University’s ultimate goal is to become the most respected institution in this area in the world hopefully.

    ATR: Anything else I should be asking?

    JT: We’ve got students from the National Olympic Committee of Armenia to Jordan to Korea to the USOC.
    Jon Tibbs and his colleagues at JTA were a big part of the campaign for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where Tibbs is now a regular. He's pictured here teaching during last year's Generations for Peace Sochi Camp. (ATR)

    From a tiny nation through to the huge USOC, the principles of brand-building and communications remain the same and everyone can benefit.

    We’ve got the Kazan 2013 Universiade, we’ve got the Sochi 2014 organizing committee here... 

    But again the principles remain the same of simple, effective brand-building – building a brand to attract loyalty amongst audiences, more sponsors, loyal sponsors, more fans, loyal fans, more media, loyal media if there is such a thing, more athletes, more young participants, more loyal young participants into sports.

    The purpose of this is how to attract new audiences and keep them with their organization. That’s what this is all about and how to do so when there’s intense competition amongst audiences, intense competition to go and have multiple choices of what to do with your time and where you go and spend your money. I think this course is timely and relevant in today’s 21st century.

    Interview conducted by Matthew Grayson.

    For general comments or questions, click here.

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