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july 28, 2012 • 09:30 PM

Britain and Australia battle for big sports projects

Australia's Tamsin Hinchley prepares to serve against the U.S. during the women's beach volleyball preliminary match at the Horse Guards Parade during the London 2012 Olympic Games July 28, 2012.
Foto: Marcelo Del Pozo / Reuters
 

The history of sport is studded with great Anglo-Australian clashes and that rivalry is spilling over into the business world as the two nations vie for juicy contracts from future Olympics and World Cup hosts.

The stakes are high. Brazil, Russia and Qatar will all stage major sports events over the next decade and are also spending heavily to build roads, railways and power plants to serve their fast growing economies.

Australia, its reputation sealed by the success of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, styles itself as "the go-to nation" for major projects in a sports industry that is forecast to be worth $145 billion by 2015.

"Sport is in our core, it's part of who we are and as a platform for business there is nothing better," Australian sports minister Kate Lundy said at a reception in London on Saturday evening to woo potential overseas clients.

Sports administrators and politicians from Qatar, Brazil and Russia were on the guest list as Australia showed how its companies could play a part in every step of the 10-year life cycle of major sports events - from bidding to post-Games legacy - in a series of computer presentations.

It is a model Britain wants its companies to emulate after many of them were given work at the Olympic Park in east London, the centerpiece of a Games funded by nine billion pounds ($14.1 billion) of public money.

"In terms of the Olympics, Sydney is the benchmark on which London works," said British sports minister Hugh Robertson, an interested spectator as Lundy spoke under the chandeliers at the Australian High Commission.

"Our legislation is based on Sydney and quite a lot of Australian companies are involved in the delivery of the London Games. We're sort of the oldest rivals and the greatest friends," he told Reuters.

FOOT IN DOOR

John Armitt, who heads the Olympic Delivery Authority that oversaw the building of the London venues, believes the global exposure from the Games should be good for British business.

"London is a massive shop window in terms of showing the world what we have been able to achieve here and building on the back of it," he said.

Brazil hosts the soccer World Cup in 2014 and Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Fellow emerging economic power Russia stages the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and 2018 World Cup.

Britain has broken off security cooperation with Russia after the 2006 murder in London of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko.

That limits the ability of its companies to bid for contracts to build stadia for the 2018 World Cup where security needs to be addressed before construction can begin.

After Russia, the World Cup will head to wealthy Qatar which has plenty of money but little in the way of soccer grounds.

Armitt stressed the value of breaking into such markets when Britain is locked in recession and the government is cutting spending on big building projects at home.

"If you look at what is happening in Qatar, yes it's building new stadia for the football but alongside it there is just an ongoing very large investment in infrastructure and other sorts of buildings," he said.

Armitt cited the example of British builder Carillion which was involved in the Olympic Park in London and recently won a 395 million pounds commercial property development contract in the Qatari capital of Doha.

"As with all international markets, it's a case of getting your foot in the door on the back of something," he said.

It was inevitable that contractors would find themselves fighting their own version of the sporting contests that have helped to define Britain's relations with 'Down Under'.

"On occasions it's possible that British and Aussie companies will be head to head. There's nothing wrong with that, that's the nature of international business," Armitt said.

($1 = 0.6364 British pounds)

(Editing by Tony Jimenez; For all the latest Olympic news go to http://www.reuters.com/london-olympics-2012)

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