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Is Whistler ready for John Furlong?

John Furlong began the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation’s presentation to the International Olympic Committee last July by saying, "We’re delighted to be here, and perhaps just a little nervous.

John Furlong began the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation’s presentation to the International Olympic Committee last July by saying, "We’re delighted to be here, and perhaps just a little nervous."

Whistler’s response to last Friday’s announcement that Furlong will lead the organizing committee for the 2010 Games might be similar: we’re delighted it’s Furlong, and a little nervous now that preparations for the Olympics are going to get serious.

The continuity that Furlong brings to the CEO position of the organizing committee, or OCOG, is a positive for Whistler. Through seven years with the bid corporation, the transition team and now the organizing committee, Furlong and other key people, such as Terry Wright and Linda Oglov, have come to know and understand Whistler and its concerns.

Whistler is, of course, represented on the Vancouver 2010 board of directors by administrator Jim Godfrey and Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher, but both of these people have full time jobs already. It will be the employees of the organizing committee, starting with the CEO, who make the decisions that directly affect Whistler.

Furlong built an impressive team for the bid corporation and we have to hope and assume he will do the same with the Olympic organizing committee, starting with his chief financial officer.

But to put in perspective what kind of power the organizing committee will have – the nature of the beast we will be living with for the next six years – it’s worth looking back at Gerhard Heiberg’s report after the IOC evaluation team toured Vancouver and Whistler just about one year ago. Heiberg’s report states: "During the visit (to Vancouver) it was clarified that public sector funding for capital works will flow through OCOG accounts and its distribution will be managed by OCOG… Design and construction of the venues are to be managed by the OCOG Design and Construction Department. Permanent works will be funded primarily by federal and provincial government grants, which will flow through OCOG to the various projects. As explained to the Commission, the responsibility for re-allocation or increases in funding will rest with the OCOG, which will also be the liaison with government officials regarding adjustments or changes to governmental funding needs."

While the organizing committee will have a close relationship with Whistler, its relationship with the provincial government will be even closer. Dick Pound’s allegation that Premier Gordon Campbell had hijacked the CEO selection process may prove to be a prescient warning about the provincial government’s involvement in the OCOG. We’ll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, what is the message Whistler wants to give Furlong and the OCOG about Olympic facilities and the town’s future? After two years and $1.27 million invested in our comprehensive sustainability plan, we are apparently getting close to figuring it out. A new "blended scenario", based on public feedback to the five scenarios presented last fall, is supposed to be brought forth in March. The final CSP is scheduled for adoption in April.

That’s about the same time Furlong should have some of the most important members of his OCOG team in place and the ramp-up to 2010 will begin for real. The CEO, who is responsible for a project worth more than $6 billion and accountable to 30 million Canadian taxpayers, will not have a lot of time to sit back and consider Whistler’s preferences and desires. It helps that he has so much background with Whistler and that Furlong himself is a considerate, passionate team player, but the timing is such that he and the OCOG are going to have to make decisions quickly. Black or white; there will be no time for the many shades of grey that have coloured Whistler’s CSP to date.

The sooner Whistler figures out what it wants, and the clearer that message can be to the OCOG, the better the chances both groups will be successful.

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