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Manifest Density - Episode 54 - Christiaan Page - COVID and the Winter Olympics

February 16, 2022


COVID and the Winter Olympics

The IOC's Senior Advisor Christiaan Page, a leading sports technologist, speaks of the challenges the pandemic has placed on the 2022 winter Games.

Christiaan Page has been involved in the world of sporting events and Games Technology for nearly 3 decades, making him an absolute authority in the field. His job is to provide innovative technology solutions to providers in the sporting and event industry.

With 27 years of experience under his belt, he worked closely within the Olympic Games and Sporting events industry, catering to them with forward-thinking and intuitive new technologies. In order to pursue his work, Christiaan followed the Olympic Games throughout the years, experiencing life in the past 5 hosting cities, but also having lived in 13 different countries!

A passionate, dedicated and vibrant individual, Christiaan lives by his favorite keywords: “Live, Learn, Legacy”, strongly believing that through living your dreams and learning as much as you can, you’ll ultimately be able to leave a lasting legacy.

Christiaan is also an active public speaker who motivates audiences through workshops and presentations. Feel free to get in touch to find out more:

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Episode transcript:

The transcription of this episode is auto generated by a third-party source. While Microshare takes every precaution to insure that the content is accurate, errors can occur. Microshare, Inc.  is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information.

Michael Moran [00:00:01] This is manifest density. Hello, everyone, and welcome to this edition of Manifest Density, your host Michael Moran here, and we will explore the intersection, as always, of COVID 19. Global business and society. And this week, I'm very, very excited about our conversation today, coming straight from Beijing site of this year's Winter Olympics, and our guest is Christiaan Page, who's the founder of Legacy Sport based in Lausanne, Switzerland. Just like the International Olympic Committee, and Christiaan has been involved in sporting events and technology for three decades since Sydney 2000. For those of you who were born after 2000, as many of my listeners probably were, it's scary. Thought you really know your way around games, summer and winter. And now here you are at a game and at the games at a time of global pandemic. Obviously, we saw that play out in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Now we're seeing China's approach to this. And first, I want to just introduce you and give you a chance to tell us how you are dealing with every level of the technology that makes these games happen. How is it going and give us a sense of how you got into this industry?

Christiaan Page [00:01:26] Right. Well, first of all, thanks for having me on the show. Great to be here. And yeah, it is scary, scary opening. When you say yes, some of the lessons maybe may not have been around in Sydney 2000, but great to have you with us as well. So my involvement with the games obviously started back in Sydney 2000. I started my career, as you mentioned three decades ago. Now, actually my first one was an outside broadcast. You know, I was actually traveling. I was on a week's holiday backpacking and ran into a friend and I said, What are you doing tomorrow? And he said, I'm doing an outside broadcast and said, What's that? And he said, Oh, well, what you know, can I said, can I put my hand on a set kind of come along? And he said, Well, sure, why not? So I got there. I was shown how to roll cables. I was absolutely kind of mind blown by the fact he had those all these trucks and cameras and people running everywhere. And so they gave me a Two-Way radio, which obviously, as anyone knows, who works at events. Once you get it to a radio, kind of someone important. Anyway, I got to do all the running, and that was over a week by the end of that week. They offered me a job and said, Look, we're going to pay you. Do you want to come and work for us? And that was how I started. I think the journey has continued. Probably very similar vein. I've always managed to put my hand up. I think that's one of the things that has I love about the career that I've had and the opportunities that are presented themselves. I think it's also a little bit about being outside your comfort zone and saying, Well, yeah, I can have a go at doing that. And and I think there's the opportunities of a bigger, bigger and I've been able to, you know, work with great teams who've made it possible to do some, you know, some really great work. So as you mentioned, the technology piece is key to that. I've always had a fascination with technology and I think what we what it enables and what it drives in terms of modern events, broadcast and production is how we engage with our audience. And I think the technologies as they've evolved over the years and I've seen these changes has expanded. I think, you know, with the digital explosion, all those elements, we've really seen some real change in how we engage with our audiences.

Michael Moran [00:03:41] Christiaan, these Olympic Games obviously have a particular challenge. There's the usual logistical challenges which we spoke about before we started recording from my days in broadcast. I mean, to do a live broadcast from anywhere is it is a challenge to do it from on a global basis around the world from a place like China is an extra challenge. And now you layer on top of that, a global pandemic and a government that has been as vigilant and and strict as any on the planet with regard to that pandemic. How is that complicated the job and have you seen any interesting technological attempts to to ease the way?

Christiaan Page [00:04:26] Yeah, that's a great question. Look, the the the I have to say, first off, I think the efforts made by the Chinese government to enable us to still facilitate and have the games has been phenomenal. You know, they've got a zero policy, zero tolerance policy to COVID. You know, everybody is treated, you know, from, you know, any any detection of the virus. So and they, you know, the rigorous nature of the testing means that they do really catch everything as it comes through technologically. I think what we've seen is the processing. I'm going to say, if you look at behind the scenes, you know, the the the processing of just the testing and the volumes of testing that's required, you know, I'm tested every day. I have my PCR test. So it's not just a little antigen test, it's a full proper genetic test that they conduct every day. And they track all of this for not just the games population, but the whole population of what's going on in and working in around the games. And one of the really clever things and this is something the IOC did in partnership with the Chinese by boycotting the organizing committee and the Chinese government was to build the playbooks. And these playbooks really were sort of, you know, threaten to devour the definition, if you like, of how we were going to do this together. And what they did was they created two sort of definitions of a closed loop, which is effectively the bubble within the venues and then the outer loop, which is for everybody outside, basically who's been through to a 21 day quarantine and then they go out into and can go out into the general population of of of Beijing. But technologically, think about all of the tracking of all that data. That there's a lot of personal data is a lot of information that has to be recorded and protected. So a lot of systems behind the scenes in making sure that that has happened. You've also then got to integrate that with travel schedules. You know, I think from when I started my journey, I came out here at the beginning of January. Two weeks before that, I started doing recordings of my health records. Before that, I had to have a couple of tests, a PCR test that had to be recorded and sent to the organizations. You know, this is for everybody who's working on the games and we're talking, you know, thousands of athletes. We're talking thousands of my colleagues who work and work in sport and deliver the games. The broadcast is everybody behind the scenes. And then you've got this interesting sort of blend where you've got this crossover of, you know, the local team people based here in Beijing. They had to come inside the loop. So they've actually kind of committed to being inside the actual closed loop away from family and friends for the duration of the games and for the build up. So all of this is all tracked and managed through apps, so we can actually see what's going on and we can actually record all of our daily activities. So lots of lots of coordination, if that makes sense.

Michael Moran [00:07:26] So Christian, I want to make sure that people understand not everybody's watching the Olympics like I do because I'm a skier. Yep, but there is when you say closed loop, we're talking Green Zone in Iraq, kind of closed when you go in and you don't leave that loop unless something terrible happens. You need to go to a hospital, probably, or when you leave, when you leave that back, right, the games are over and you're you're broken down and you're moving to the next step next city. So yeah, that's a that's a real corny.

Christiaan Page [00:07:55] Yeah, absolutely, that's exactly right. So, you know, we we are in, you know, sealed vehicles, for example, so we travel literally from our bubble of our hotel, which is again, we cannot go outside the perimeter. We which we're fine with. We're in a compound of several hotels so we can interact with each other. We've got the restaurants, but all the stocks that have come in and also a part of that bubble. And if they're not, then they're in hazmat suits. So it really is well-protected. And I think it's one of the really quite amazing things that has been achieved so far for this games. If we look at the way it worked in Tokyo as well, the efforts made by the playbooks, all of these conditions, if you like, or policies and procedures and always this playbook guidance ensured that we had like a 0.2 percent impact of COVID on the game population in Tokyo. When you think of that, that's tens of thousands of people. So this really worked and I think we were fortunate that we had Tokyo. We went a little bit further here in in China with the with the policies that are in place here. But yeah, very much bubble to bubble even in the venues we've got, you know, separate areas within the venues where we can operate. And there's there's quite clear delineation as to whether the spectators from outside the venue are from from outside the loop and where we can operate within the loop safely. But you can imagine how difficult it is to bring all of this together operationally. And I think that's one of the things one of the greatest challenges for us in this games delivery, certainly.

Michael Moran [00:09:31] OK, Christiaan, hold just a second while we take a quick break to hear from our sponsor. All right. I'm back with Christian Page, who is helping to manage the tech, the layers of technology that are making the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing possible. Christiaan, you have been doing this, for ages, and I don't want to be insulting, I have to know,

Christiaan Page [00:09:56] but no, no, no, no, it's not at all. Yeah.

Michael Moran [00:09:59] So think back to some of the other cities that have hosted these games. I know Rio was a recent host and we've had cities like Seoul. Could this possibly have been pulled off by Lake Placid or by a small city like Sochi? Could they have pulled off the technological and epidemiological miracle that is happening in Beijing?

Christiaan Page [00:10:29] Good question. You know, I think every House City has and will dig deep to deliver the games, I think that the one unique thing about the games is that it's always comes with some level of challenge that we don't expect. And it's always quite remarkable and amazes me how the the games population and the way in which the movement, if you like, sort of harnesses that capability of people's willingness to not only get in and get it done, but to just do great work to deliver the games if I think of every game as everyone has had its own unique challenge. And if I look back in, you know, for what was it? Rio was a good example. We had the Zika virus will be looked at medical conditions, which was a real issue for many people traveling into the country. That had a real concern, and rightly so. It had a big impact. Plus, you had an economic crisis within the country, which really had a dramatic effect on how the games were going to be delivered. Such Saatchi had its own unique challenges, and I think you bring that cultural challenges. It's not just the culture of the country, but it's the culture, the way people work. And that's what again, I think actually one of the best bits about what I do is that we get to experience these cultures not only the organizational culture, but the cultures of the of the host nation. In a really, you get to see it all. And you get to have two and you really have to understand it to enable your delivery. You know, there's a great talk I watched long time ago, but necessarily the, you know, to paraphrase and summarize it and basically said, you know, you really need to ask the people where you're working, you know, how do you deliver stuff here? So I think what we what we benefit from in Tokyo, you know, again, you know, the Japanese people were the hosts and they made it work within the confines of constructs of their culture and the way they operated in much the same way they've done here and in Beijing, there was an adaptation. I think that's one of the great things of being human and what we do. We adapt. And I would say that every host nation I've been in or worked in, delivered the games they've adapted to deliver the games and delivered not just, you know, not just, oh yeah, it was OK, but really. And my experience has been that, you know, all the games have been great in one way or another. And I think that's something unique about the Olympics and what I do. So that makes sense.

Michael Moran [00:13:03] Yeah, absolutely. And there's been obviously every time you have reengaged in this process and normally it's every two years, I guess, because the winter and summer games have traditionally been on alternate two year pattern. Right?

Christiaan Page [00:13:20] Yeah. What we start our engagement actually about seven years out from from from appointment that which normally happens about nine years out. We start that process when you start building the organizing committee around seven and then it kind of ramps up from there. So we're quite often overlapping from a planning perspective. You know, I've been involved with the games for with Paris already in Milan-Cortina, which is coming up for me before I finish the other games. So it's it's it is a it's a it's a constantly rolling program, if you like in that.

Michael Moran [00:13:52] Typically those are those are many generations of technological innovation there too, because if you start, if you're planning the guests, let's say 2032 games right now and you have no conception really of how signals will be carried of, what kind of technologies will be extant and how people receive them or even experience everybody could be in virtual reality at that point.

Christiaan Page [00:14:20] Yeah. Oh, look, I mean, it's super exciting when you think about what could be. We love that. And certainly in our technology circles, we were always thinking, OK, how do we how do we build a framework? I mean, fundamentally, that's what we're doing. We're building a framework in which the games operate. And when I talk about what I do, mostly it's about enabling us to have ways to engage with the audience, and that audience is constantly changing and how the audience engages with data and information. You know, I think great example, the London 2012 Games, if we think back that the planning cycle for that started in probably two thousand seven, I think it was 2008, the iPhone was released. So all of a sudden you had this new device that kind of at its infancy was like, Oh yeah, that's cool. You know, you can. You got these app things and it's much better than, you know, sort of tapping to tap on your BlackBerry. But it very quickly became obvious that we needed developers to develop ways to engage with applications. So when we think about mobile web and apps now. When you think about how you engage with suddenly results systems, it's all through an application that sits on your on your smartphone. Back then it was, oh, actually no, everything was done through the web. So we saw this massive migration to mobile with an app. So we had to then implement new systems and develop new applications. That would enable us, though it hadn't been planned for when the games were launched, and certainly we were building the program for technology. So that's one example. Another great example is how technology has moved on with fiber optic systems and all of that sort of stuff. That's one of the probably the biggest implementation tools that we've got now, which to some people has in fiber optics always been around. Well, yes. But the ability to rapidly deploy it. I had a team of about 20 people responsible for pulling in one strand of fiber into the equestrian venue into back in 2004 for the Athens games. And this, quite literally, it was a very fragile piece of fiber optic cable that had to be handled with quite literally the gloves. We had to fly in a specialist crew to terminate it. But that enabled us to send signals around an equestrian venue for cross-country. So nowadays it's kind of like drums of it and you just throw it out. So those little things that make that enable us to to to get the information and carry, as you said, transport signals and so on and so forth certainly makes a big difference. There's two simple examples of how how tech is change.

Michael Moran [00:16:52] That's fascinating to me. So when you were doing your first games at Sydney, I was the international editor at MSNBC in the United States. And as you will know, well, NBC News is the network that always dominates the Olympics. In the U.S., there were people at NBC at the highest levels who I won't name, who were saying No one's ever going to watch the Olympics on their phone. What are you crazy?

Christiaan Page [00:17:16] Yeah, absolutely. Let me tell you.

Michael Moran [00:17:19] And we just had to think big in the ways that they talked in those days. It was all going to be on the big screen on the television and the secondary. And now, of course, they have turned around, as has everybody. All right. Let me take a break to hear from our sponsor. We'll move from the metaverse back to Earth in just a moment. OK, I'm back with Christian Page of Legacy Sport, Christian, so any time you have the Olympics, you have international politics and geopolitics and economics and all sorts of things converging. Now we have the pandemic on top of it all pandemic itself. Whether you look at it through the lens of the Chinese government or through the incredibly stupid debates in the West over things like masks and vaccines, it's been tremendously politicized. And then, of course, you've got the whole Leni Riefenstahl thing. The Olympics, you know, is it going to be used as a effort to, you know, advance China's profile in the what they call in in in the political science world and a model competition democracy versus state run economies. Every country does it. Of course, you know, from the most charming things that were happening in Rio two to the L.A. Olympics, which was very triumphalist. What are you seeing there? How does the technology play into that? And is the technology that China is using to film this for their own reasons? Also run through your networks and through your note.

Christiaan Page [00:18:56] Sure. And I think the you know, this is again my personal observation of the games and how it how it is is delivered in each host country. I think it's quite uniquely and I think the speech, if you've got an opportunity to watch the opening speech by President Bach, you know, I think his his core message was around. Look at my observation was it was around, you know, we can't pull it off. We've got to work hard to not politicize sport and especially the Olympic Games because it is one of the, you know, I love the reference he made around how we hold on to we have a village and Olympic Village which hosts all of the nation athletes under one roof. And isn't this a great metaphor for what we can potentially do in the world? And I really hold true to that. I think this is one of the unique things about the Olympic Movement. It does tend to and my experience of it, especially at an operational level where I know the delivery level, we just get in and get it done. And one of the things I love about it is that you, you overcome many of the the one of those narratives that are going on around the world to why are we here? Well, we're here to deliver great sport event. We're here to build a stage for the world's best athletes, wherever they from to come and do their very best. So I think being a part of that makes it much easier to be big, realize that you speak of something bigger than the individual and to enable that. And I think technologically what that what we have is the ability to distribute all of that content. The host broadcaster is responsible for making sure that all of the this is captured and terms of everything that you see from a broadcast perspective goes through the host broadcaster and the rights holding broadcasters. So the framework is already in place. So that doesn't change specifically from country to country and what is shared, I found it's always fascinating. You sit in a host country and try and watch any, any sport that's going on. That doesn't include the host nation. It's very different on that. Host the host nation's broadcast, let's be honest. And that's the way it's designed. And I think that that is two ways. Again, we engage our audience based on what they are wanting to view. A really good example was during the Tokyo Games, and I heard this from through one of the rights holders from Australia. You know, they and again, this is a really technologically how how we've seen evolution is the streaming capabilities being enabling people to watch whichever sport they were actually really interested in. What they wanted to actually participate in was their sport. So streaming enables us to then take a single feed and feed that to a channel directly rather than it going through production and the sort of a mixed feed of a bit of everything waiting for that feed of what it is you want to watch. So you can watch just directly on that channel, that particular sport. So what happened during the because we were in the pandemic and Australia was during lockdown during Tokyo Games, and I remember the Syrians, my family, they said, Oh, look, you know, the local rights holders actually putting on a bunch more channels, they actually were able to then tap straight into those streams and be able to enable the audience to watch directly what they wanted. They had greater demand. They were able to not only hear from their audience directly because they were saying, you know, the audience was able to feed back to the rights holder and say, Hey, please give us more of this. But they were also able then to deliver on that because of the way the the the broadcast has evolved. It isn't just a single programing feed with a bit of everything. It actually has the ability to split it up. So those are the sort of things that make it easier to engage with the audiences at a local level as well as globally.

Michael Moran [00:22:42] It's such a beautiful thing, too, because like, like you, Christiaan, I've lived around the world and I've experienced what it's like to watch the games in Germany and the UK and in Southeast Asia and the United States. And the old model was you only saw what happened to the athletes from the UK if you were watching the UK broadcaster. Right?

Christiaan Page [00:23:01] Absolutely. Yeah, it was probably

Michael Moran [00:23:03] more open minded than the U.S. The U.S. was one dramatic, you know, kind of little mini series after another about the tragedy in an athlete's life that they overcame. And and you never heard about someone who was a fascinating athlete from another country or another continent. So it's really nice to have that diversity and to be able to see biathlon or the loose right? Yeah. So I have to ask you one last question. I'm a bit of an Olympics nerd, but I've been watching some of the coverage and they they're on and on about this robot that serves drinks in the press room.

Christiaan Page [00:23:38] Yes.

Michael Moran [00:23:39] And apparently it's a it's a it's a bar with no stick and you can literally order a mixed drink. And this thing that looks like it should be building Toyota's will grab it and start shaking. And it's. Pretty cool.

Christiaan Page [00:23:57] Yeah, look, it's and you know what, it's got the longest cure. You believe it. It makes cocktails and it literally has a queue running out the door. It is very cool. They've actually there's quite a lot of automation. We've seen also in the in the main press center where you actually and the athletes village, where meals are actually delivered directly to the table using automation systems. That would probably be. I think the thing that I would probably compare them to is like the picking systems that you would have in a in a mass distribution warehouse. They're basically going in and picking the components and making the meals and then delivering directly to the table. You know, I hope it's you know, what I hope is that we don't replace the waiters and waitresses because I think you still need that human engagement. It's something nice to get in your way. When you when you weigh person comes up against, you know, what would you like? Here's the specials. But it is really cool. There was actually some other we saw some other robots obviously were in quarantine, so those first few days in hotels. And you know, I I actually lost my and I needed some water and I got a knock on my door. And actually there was a robot actually delivering my water. It was an automated delivery machines with a smiley face on top. I had to ask them to send something back so they could video it and send to my daughters back home in Switzerland. So I say, check this out. This is really cool. So yeah, there's lots of, I think these little subtle advances, whether it be making a cocktail or delivering a bottle of water to your room. They certainly demonstrate how technology is certainly evolving and enabling us to do even the day to day tasks.

Michael Moran [00:25:35] But it's somehow, I can't imagine sidling up to that bar and telling that that steel arm, my latest heart. Well, listen, we're going to have to wrap up this. Perhaps the most fascinating edition of manifest density any ever. But let let me ask you how our listeners would would track your your next move and understand you know what you're doing and what legacy sports doing.

Christiaan Page [00:26:06] Sure, do appreciate that. And yeah, it's been really enjoyed being having this conversation. I think they're important conversations to have, so we're here to help get better at deeper understandings of the different areas of technology and how how we interface with the world. And it's great to have this opportunity. So thanks for coming on the show with regards to my vote where you can reach me. You can get me up. Legacy Sport dot com. I'm a very much a also an amateur writer. I do quite a lot of blog writing and we've hosted a few podcasts and so on. But I'm also very active on social media, so you can follow me on LinkedIn and also on Facebook. I probably need to catch up on some of the more the younger ones, actually. Again, this is evolution, right? We see how that that our social media channels open up. But so, for example, I do countdowns I've done for the last few games. I did 100 days of summer where I did a just a daily blog. And for the countdown to these winter, I did 30 winter night. So just writing stories and narratives about what's happening behind the scenes. And so if you're interested in following on that, please check me out. My name's Christian page with a Christian with two eyes. So if you look me up by all means are happy to connect.

Michael Moran [00:27:23] Well, Christian, this has just been fascinating. I thank you so much and I remind our listeners that, of course, they can learn more about how microshare helped get the world safely back to work with our ever smart suite of products that includes universal contact tracing and all sorts of very smart solutions that help focus on the wellness, safety and monitoring of physical plant in your buildings around the world. You can see all that stuff on Microshare Dot I O, and you can subscribe to Manifest Density there or download it on iTunes, Google Play, iHeartRadio, Spotify. There's all sorts of places you can get it, and that's going to do it for this week on behalf of Microshare and its global employees, I want to first say good luck to every single athlete that is at the Beijing Olympics. I've known professional athletes and amateur champions. I'm not one myself, but I do have such respect for the amount of heart and toil that goes into getting to an Olympics Games. So I was very happy to see it wasn't canceled. I'd also like to thank Chris and Paige again and say, This is Michael Moran so long. Be well and thank you for listening.


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