Nicola Sweeney, Head of HR Operations, Baku 2015

Sports events are about much more than sport. The drama of a games and the group effort of preparing and staging it can provide an inspirational focal point for a host country, transforming the way it sees itself and is seen by the world; stimulating social and economic development and the creative industries; and forging national and international cross-cultural and commercial links – and human resources teams are instrumental in achieving such success.

This was the perspective that emerged from an open seminar by Nicola Sweeney, London-based Head of HR Operations for the 2015 European Games, hosted by GlobalSportsJobs partner Birkbeck’s Sport Business Centre.

Three years may have passed since London 2012 (for which Sweeney was selection event manager, then workforce operations manager) but she was still moved when she reflected on it following a highlights reel of the London Olympic Games 2012: “Videos like that are what inspire people to work in sport”.

The first European Games opens in Baku, Azerbaijan next month. Though smaller than the Olympics, the scale is still a daunting challenge: 6,000 athletes, 20 sports, 253 medal events, all of Europe – and one unalterable date by which everything must work: 12 June.

Arrays of different helper teams are essential. Volunteers particularly come in all shapes, sizes and specialisms, but everyone has to share one thing: a passion for sport. For those with that passion, volunteering offers a great entry into sports management.

As is well known now, when a games ends, implementing its legacy begins: a legacy that must be designed into every aspect of the event from the start. Here too HR plays a vital role – and that also means a legacy for the people involved. Their participation develops considerable transferable skills, and part of the event organisation involves helping people build on their skills, working on CVs, planning and interview techniques to find further career paths.

Coping with cultural differences is another part of Sweeney’s job. Azerbaijan, whilst looking to the future, differs from London in many ways – notably a strong focus on formal administrative processes and emphasis of the country’s centralised decision-making structure. However Nicola noted the infrastructure is outstanding and on par with any other international sporting venues.


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