Paper Chase: As the World Tunes in to the Beijing Olympics, Businesses Are Limbering Up for London 2012. the Organisers Insist That Any Company Can Win a Lucrative Contract, Writes Christian Doherty, but Do Small Players Have a Sporting Chance?

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Ken Livingstone, recently ousted from City Hall, made a candid admission during his ill-fated campaign for re-election as London's mayor. Confessing that he had no interest in the Olympics as a sporting or cultural festival, he said that he'd supported its bid purely to get private and public money poured into east London, long the capital's most deprived area. "It was all a con trick to get them to invest in the East End," Livingstone told a bemused audience on BBC1's Question Time programme.

Will the result be economic regeneration and prosperity for all involved? The benefits of hosting the Olympics will be forever debated. For every Montreal, which left a city bankrupt for a generation, there is a Barcelona, which credits the games with dragging it into the 21st century. Athens, it must be said, is not overly proud of the rusting hulk of its Olympic stadium, mothballed only four years after hosting the closing ceremony. There is little sign of long-term benefit there and it remains to be seen what effect this summer's games--already marred by political controversy over China's occupation of Tibet--will have on Beijing. So it's understandable that all eyes in London are on the bottom line for 2012's big party. To the surprise of very few, the cost has spiralled since the initial estimate of 3.5bn [pounds sterling]. The figure is now nearer to 10bn [pounds sterling]. And there are four years to go yet.

But what of the supposed beneficiaries: the British firms competing for a slice of the Olympic cake--the builders, caterers, engineers, printers, hotels and publishers? Will the supposed bonanza of contracts and trickle-down effects extend beyond the large corporate sponsors, many of which have paid nearly 100m [pounds sterling] each to have their name associated with the games? The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) claims that firms of all sizes up and down the country will profit from the event. But it's fair to say that the benefits associated with working for London 2012, chief among them the public relations coup of aligning your brand with the games, may have been over-hyped.

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So, if you're thinking of bidding for Olympic contracts, what are the main obstacles facing the average business?

"We're telling people to get their houses in order now and not leave it until the tender comes up, because you'll need to spend time then on pricing and so on," says Declan Cushley, a partner at law firm Browne Jacobson, which has been advising clients on how to cash in on London 2012. "There are various things you'll need to have in place when the tender comes your way."

Cushley explains that there are many boxes to tick. "it will be quite a challenge for anyone who hasn't dealt with the public sector before. This is simply because, although the public sector needs to be inclusive, it can also set out what it wants from contractors on equal opportunities, discrimination policies, health and safety, environmental policies and so on," he says.

For businesses that have had little exposure to public procurement, the Olympic tendering process can seem like a labyrinthine nightmare. But the ODA has at least tried to simplify this by launching the CompeteFor web site (www.competefor.com). All tendering and contract awards will be handled through the portal, and most contracts will be awarded this year and next. The web site is designed to be a brokerage for all Olympic projects. There is a section where smaller companies can enter their details in the hope of being offered subcontracting work. Indeed, CompeteFor has been described as a dating agency for businesses.

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The site also lists the contracts currently up for grabs. A quick perusal will show up projects ranging from the construction of the handball arena to the development of drug-testing facilities. In order to use the process efficiently, it's advisable to have your business profile written and ready to go when a suitable opportunity arises. …