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Backstage at the Rio Olympics

Alumna Carla Anderson directs Canada’s 2016 Olympic team
August 19, 2016
By Isaac Olson

Carla Anderson, BA 87, was hired by the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) just a few months after graduating from Concordia with a degree in recreation and leisure studies. She has worked behind the scenes organizing Canada’s teams for the Olympic, Youth Olympic and Pan American Games ever since — no simple task.

The COC’s two directors alternate between the five major games in four-year periods. Anderson is the games director for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which began August 5 and wrap up August 21.

Carla Anderson Carla Anderson’s duties as games director for the Canadian Olympic Committee at the Rio Olympics include managing the logistics for Canada’s hundreds of athletes, coaches and support staff. | Photo credit: Canadian Olympic Committee

Although she arrived in Rio on July 12, Anderson has been readying for the event for five years. Despite a staggering to-do list, she’s managed to bring it all together so Canada’s top athletes have had nothing but the competition to worry about once they arrived.

As part of her role, Anderson serves as principal liaison with the International Olympic Committee while managing all the logistics that come with shipping hundreds of Canada’s top athletes, their entourage and all their equipment to a foreign country.

In Rio, she has been overseeing the housing accommodations of more than 700 people and the delivery of all the horses, boats, bicycles, medical supplies, uniforms and more. Not only do Canada’s 313 Olympic athletes travel with coaches and support crews, but there are also COC staffers and volunteers to manage.

Anderson took a few minutes out of her busy schedule in Rio to answer some questions about her experience so far.

How did you end up going straight from Concordia to working for the COC?

Anderson: “I graduated in 1987 and started with the COC that fall. I did my internship, actually, with a sponsor of the Olympic Committee. After that, the Olympic Committee called me and said they had a job for me. I have been there ever since.

My first Pan Am Games was in 1991 and my first Olympics were the two that took place in ’92 because, at that time, it was still two in the same year.”

What are some of your responsibilities in Rio?

Anderson: “There’s a huge ‘behind the scenes’ that people rarely know about. Basically, it’s like a mini city within the village.

There are 313 athletes, and then you have all the coaches, team leaders and support staff as well the technical people like bike mechanics or those who work on the rowing shells or the sail boats. Or the grooms that come with the horses.

All of those different people are serviced by our team.”

Where are all these people staying?

Anderson: “We have four main properties. We have people based in the Olympic Village and the performance centre. The performance centre is basically an accommodation area for non-accredited staff, and we duplicate the services that we have in the village for those who will work in the village or at one of our other areas, but there are just not enough beds to have them all living in the Olympic Village.

We have our communications centre, where our communications staff work with the media, and we have our Canada Olympic House.

We also have what we call a ‘hub’ for rowing and canoeing because they, for performance reasons, decided to live outside of the village due to the distance they would need to travel every day to competition. We have a hub for them in a hotel closer to the venue.”

What are some of the challenges you are facing in Rio?

Anderson: “Some of the challenges certainly have been the readiness of the organizing committee. Not everything was ready when we got here, so we had some extra work to do to make sure our residences were ready.

The other challenges have been transportation — moving so many people around the city has been a bit of a challenge. Transportation is probably the one constant challenge from games to games.”

What about safety concerns?

Anderson: “Certainly there have been some concerns. We have two RCMP officers embedded with the team. They are in contact with the outside security forces as well, so we are kept up to date on all things when it comes to security.

We also have an emergency preparedness response plan. Every member of the team has a cell phone, so if anything were to happen, we are able to do a rollcall to locate everybody.”

How has this experience compared to past games?

Anderson: “The Pan Am Games were in Rio in 2007. So I know the city well and I love the city. I love coming here. But there were definitely a few more challenges than we have had at past games.

People always ask me which were my favourite games and, of course, Vancouver was my favourite games, but I do love this city and I love the people who are here. The people are just bending over backwards to try to help us out.”

How has your Concordia experience helped your work?

Anderson: “First of all, the fact that I had the opportunity to do a stage [internship] with an Olympic sponsor was a huge opening that I might not have had anywhere else.

In terms of the job, I don’t think there’s any school that can prepare you for needing to know how boats, horses and their feed are shipped and everything else that takes place at the games.”

Overall, are you enjoying this year’s Olympics?

Anderson: “Oh, of course! We have a great vibe in the village. The team has been happy from day one, even when everything was not quite set up — we had some issues with power and some issues with hot water.

The soccer team was one of the first to arrive. We had it pretty well set up for them. They were pumped — pretty keen to be here.

Outside of our residence, we have a great outdoor patio set up with furniture, and we can bring a TV out to watch the games together. We have a small gym in here for them.

So we are pretty self-sufficient. We even have our own healthcare team with us. We try to be as self-sufficient as we can be.”


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