Move Sports "only" had to organize a mega 3-day multi-discipline sports competition for almost 1500 United Nations officials in Lisbon.
The case is that Move Sports is not a common sports tourism and events management company. In fact, the issue is that we are unable to just do our job with the utmost professionalism. Honestly, the point is that we like sports a lot and we really like our customers.
If we multiply this passion by close to 1500 athletes, 13 sports and hundreds of games, we had a very big predicament in our hands, as it is easy to understand.
Our serious condition is that we lived every minute of last week UN's Inter-Agency Games (IAG) with great excitement. We marvelled at the winners and admired the fair-play displayed by the runners-up.
"The best IAG event so far"
Perhaps because this is our DNA, Jong Chol, the person in charge of the table tennis competition in IAG, decided of his own volition to send us a message where he shares that "it was really the best IAG table tennis event we had so far. Everything was perfectly organised under your guidance and professionalism. All the participants have expressed their satisfaction and kind thanks to you and the helping people".
A week ago, when it all began, the challenge was very "simple". The UN, which has been organizing the games since 1968, had chosen Lisbon and had chosen, in an international tender, Move Sports to raise and manage the accommodation, transfers within the city and the sports competitions.
Extremely well organized, as it should be for a UN agency, UNESCO sent us the numbers: we would welcome close to 1500 athletes, UN officials organised into teams representing 50 UN agencies.
Right there, what pleased us the most, because we like multiculturalism and because we like to show-off Lisbon, was learning that the almost 1500 athletes were citizens of 125 countries, from Cameroon to Argentina, from Italy to the United States of America.
Thirteen sports disciplines and the facilities to host them
UNESCO then informed us that athletes and teams would compete in thirteen sports disciplines: some popular, such as football, basketball, volleyball and athletics; others more circumscribed, such as pétanque, cricket and golf. We would also have chess, tennis, table tennis, swimming, badminton and even darts competitions.
Our first concern was to find high-level sports infrastructures suitable for the practice of each of the thirteen disciplines.
With the unconditional support of the municipal authorities of Almada, Oeiras, Amadora, Torres Vedras and in particular of the mayor of Lisbon, we choose and prepared the best sports venues for IAG.
For instance, the 10K road race, the highlight of the athletics competition, would take place at Parque da Bela Vista, in Lisbon. The UNESCO head of the athletics competition later told us that the UN athletes had never taken the 10K on such an amazing course.
Meanwhile, we joined Decathlon to procure the necessary sports equipment. And, of course, we choose the best hotels for athletes to have all the rest and comfort they deserved.
With the competition venues identified, prepared and ready to go and all the supporting infrastructure in place, we now had a gigantic sports competition to run for three days.
A vast sports "army"
When it came to soccer, the operation was simple. Two fields, 183 players. But with soccer emotions reign and everything that is simple becomes complex. For darts, we would run a competition with ten boards. Volleyball and basketball commanded three fields each. For golf and its 85 athletes, we had a superb 18-hole course. Simple operations, all of these.
On the other hand, tennis required 7 fields, badminton was to be played in 11 fields, table tennis demanded 16 tables and the pétanque competition took 20 fields. Probably more complex challenges!
The solution was to put the vast and competent Move Sports' "army" in motion, made up of veterans from many sports’ "battles". We're talking about our liaison officers, field officers, physiotherapists, coordinators and many, many others.
Truth is, they took up the "battlefield" with honour and competence, running more than 250 hours of competition and hundreds of games in 13 sports disciplines brilliantly and without a glitch for three solid days.
A special event on and off-field
Everything was handled with the utmost professionalism. A great success for UNESCO, an excellent promotion for Lisbon and Portugal, and a job well done for Move Sports.
The thing is, like we've said before, at Move Sports we work with emotion and passion!
Right from the games' Opening Ceremony, held at Lisbon Greenhouse, honoured with the presence of the Minister of Culture, Graça Fonseca, and the Secretary of State for Youth and Sport, João Paulo Rebelo, we realized that we were involved in a special event.
UN staff is made up of professionals with grave responsibilities, men and women who work every day to change the world for the better. The Inter-Agency Games are one of the few times of the year when they can have fun, mingle and network while competing in sports.
The spirit was fantastic, and we became deeply involved in it! Outside the competition, we met fantastic people and discovered the most incredible stories. At both the food and beverage points we created in and around the tournament venues and in the hotel bars, as well as during the tours of Lisbon we organised, the conversations picked-up and our admiration for the UN men and women grew.
Extreme sports drama and emotions
With multiple competitions, we experienced extreme emotions.
At the 10K athletics road race, we marvelled at Hesbon Nabwana's class - the athlete from Kenya came first. Meanwhile, the women competition had us cheering and suffering about the duel to the end between Pamela Wanja and Cristina Cardenas, both of the UN Nairobi agency.
In swimming, no one had prepared us for Tracy Mukulu's power, who cleared the 100-meter freestyle women competition, or for Christoph Mohr's speed, who excelled in 400-meter freestyle men competition.
Then, just like some of our new UN friends had warned us, some of the collective sports duels would become IAG legends. And so it was!
The women volleyball finals lasted for 103 minutes of enormous intensity. The ILO/WIPO/WTP team were ahead 2-0 and close to a win, but the IAEA-UNIDO maintained its discipline and will, and eventually won 3-2! Later in the day, in the men's competition finals, we had a similar scenario, with IAEA winning over ILO 3-2 after 117 minutes of intense gameplay.
But the greatest drama was lived on the soccer pitch at the men's competition finals. The game had that dream-like quality FIFA has been chasing for decades now when it comes to its World Cup competition. On one side, the magic and improvisation of the UN Nairobi team, made up mainly of Kenyan players; on the other, the rigour and experience of the IFAD team, mainly composed of Italy nationals - and a Portuguese player as well.
In 50 minutes that made the crowd gasp, the teams alternated in the lead, ending up tied 2-2. Overtime ensued, with no teams scoring. With the crowd in total silence, the game went on to the penalties. The suspense lasted until the end, with UN Nairobi winning by 8-7 (6-5 from the penalty mark). The celebrations lasted for minutes, as was common with all sports disciplines' last games and finals.
We long for more
This is what three days of UN's Inter-Agency Games felt like: the excitement was permanent and intense, and the only sorrow we have is that the event is already over.
Having participated in such a great and fantastic sports event - that fits nicely with other great realisations in our portfolio - we realize the importance of such events in the making an institution or company culture.
It comes as no surprise that one of the big goals we have at Move Sports is to continue to run similar events for multinational companies and institutions. The sooner the better!