Olympics experience

Korea 2018 Opening Ceremony

Friday 9 February saw the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Korean legends told by lycra-clad-man-powered beasts to the super impressive drone-cloud-Olympic-rings –  an Olympic opening ceremony never disappoints. Nor does it fail to confuse the viewer.

Now we can look forward to 16 days of competition in 15 sports and 102 medal events. Are you ready for Alpine Skiing, Bobsleigh,Curling,Skating, Snowboarding and Big Air ?

Watching the games from afar reminds us of our experiences behind the scenes of at London 2012.We played a small part in making the worlds largest logistical exercise run like clockwork. Like any large event what you see on TV is the tip of the iceberg (excuse weather related idiom).

The Olympic Games is the largest non-military global logistics exercise. We saw it close up and will never forget the experience.Here’s our story.

Years of preparation

LOCOG Office View London 2012

For us work started in 2009. 3 years ahead of the Games we were preparing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Freight Manual.

The Freight Manual is the official guide for the logistics functions of the games.Used by Chefs De Mission, organising committees, IOC officials, competitors and broadcasters , it was distributed to every competing nation. It covered logistics operations and Customs clearance  for all modes and  items entering Olympic venues from outside the EU.

We were involved in  discussions with the London Organising Committee and HM Revenue & Customs to agree the best operating plan to allow for a efficient and compliant running of the clearance processes. Naturally the London organisers wanted the smoothest flow of people and equipment. We sat through lengthy discussions with the government who were striving to balance security, cost, risk,public relations and visitor experience.

Our specialty and focus was on the most effective way to administer Customs activity to ensure a smooth flow of cargo in and out. The objective was to make sure that in the lead up to London 2012 there were no delays of goods inbound, and after the games broadcast equipment, cargo and personal effects could be effectively returned overseas and Customs duty and VAT accounted for.

Customs Regimes

A new UK Customs procedure was agreed to allow for clearance of freight specifically destined for the games and notified to those who needed to know.For goods imported for use at  London 2012 importers and their freight forwarders used this procedure to exempt them from paying duty and VAT avoiding the more complex standard temporary import regime. Firearms were given their own procedure – helpful for competing nations involved in shooting sports. Additionally imports  related to building the ongoing legacy of the Games were given special treatment.

The build upto 2012

Leading up to 2012 the effort was planning and preparation. A never ending stream of meetings, security discussions, logistical process flow discussions. Our office staff were keen to get involved and a selected few from around the UK were allocated to different logistics activities and venues including the Marathon, Boxing, delivery of blood and urine to the anti-doping centre, and chauffeuring dignitaries from hotel to venue.The real hard work began in Spring 2012 as the Olympic Torch Relay got underway and staffing the distribution hub in the East Midlands for Team GB athlete uniforms.

The Olympic Medals – supply chain

Our involvement in the customs aspect of the supply chain was wide ranging.We provided support and advice to companies,  national teams and officials on such diverse subjects as supplying foodstuffs for athletes during Ramadan to the more high profile Olympic medals and transportation of high value gift bags for Olympic delegates.

Looking back over our notes from the time we see an inquiry from Rio Tinto the company providing the raw materials for the London Olympic medals to be manufactured at the Royal Mint. A side note scribbled ….”the medals will be Gold Medals (will) contain gold,silver and copper. Silver medals having silver and copper.Bronze medals containing copper zinc and tin – comm code , duty ? procedure ?”. We assisted with the importation of the raw materials and classification before the ore was sent to the Mint for crafting into the finished medals.

Olympic Rings Umbrella Girls&Boys – Olympic Park London 2012

The Torch Relay – around the conference room

Early in 2012 our preparation was complete. A U.S. freight forwarding manager had been parachuted into London to take forward our preparatory work within the venues.

We resumed our more mundane Customs compliance work leaving behind the Olympics we thought. This work took us to a dull conference room in the Midlands. At the end of the meeting the site manager knowing our involvement in the preparation for London 2012 had personal custody of the official Olympic Torches standing by ready to equip the relay team that was about to start its tour of the UK. Seemed only right for us each to do a lap of honour around the conference table with a torch in hand. This episode was well and truly put in its’ place  in August 2012 when a member of our staff was selected as an official torch-bearer during the Torch Relay for the Paralympic Games.

July 2012

St Pancras Station Olympic Rings

The week before the games we had a sudden change of plan. Our US colleague  was  ill and had to return home. Helen hot-footed to the Olympic Park to stand in on site in London. Helen took up residence for the duration of the games at the Main Press Centre on the park : the centre of media activity. When not at the MPC she was in the heart of the Olympic Village taking care of  a vast array of Customs clearance and logistics challenges. From routine booking-in of vehicles to handling a Customs seizure of knives in the possession of one of the Middle-Eastern delegations. The most memorable,time-sensitive and high-profile was the challenge of Customs clearance of the ingredients (including crab cakes, soya mousse, creole grit cakes,shrimp, and seafood and smoked alligator gumbo) for a very high profile US official’s London banquet reception event. Side Note: the alligator gumbo was seized by Customs !

Read About Us (Helen and Rob) here                https://clearlightcustoms.com/about/

Top 5 questions

  1. Can you get me a ticket for the Mens 100m final or perhaps the opening ceremony?
  2. I bet you get to see every event for free don’t you?
  3. Must be great fun to be involved first hand with all of those athletes?
  4. What’s Seb Coe / Jess Ennis / Mo Farah / Usain Bolt really like?
  5. Did you get your hands on a gold medal?



  1. No.No I can’t. No chance. Not going to happen. We have no access to tickets. No. Again no. Stop asking.It’s a no still.
  2. It was work work work. Rob saw 2 events (booked & paid for himself 2 years in advance). Helen saw none 🙁
  3. We met a few. Almost all were just regular super-humans.
  4. No clue. All we know about them we read in Hello magazine.
  5. Yes we did. We attended a promo event and the speaker was a gold medal winner so we had chance to “feel the quality”

Olympic sized admin

Olympic Stadium Cauldron

Following the games there was a short break and then the Paralympic Games began, same effort, smaller scale. The day after the closing ceremony we were managing the Customs challenge of  returning the IOC delegates personal effects, shopping and official gifts. Immediately following the closing the venues and park were decommissioned, very quickly, all the equipment that arrived over an 18 month period was moved out. The famous Olympic cauldron that glowed throughout the Games was dismantled and each “petal” of the bowl had to be packed and exported piece by piece to the competing nations as a memento of London 2012. Just how do you value such things for Customs purposes?

Our last, and largest task, was the Customs post-games admin. An “Olympic” sized reconciliation process. Thousands of shipments that arrived in London and benefited from duty and VAT relief for and now had to be accounted for to check they qualified. Evidence had to be gathered,statements made and corrections and follow up done. The work continued for several months assisting the London Organising Committee to cleanly close their import records and to satisfy HMRC the process had been managed compliantly. By early 2013 we filed the last return and closed the chapter on our Olympic experience.

We salute all those who worked flat out behind the scenes at the games in London and now in Korea. We share your pain !

Clearlight Customs have experience in a wide range of Customs and logistics projects, large and small. We provide training and consultancy in all Customs activities. Take a look at our website https://clearlightcustoms.com/

Olympic updates from Korea are here https://www.olympic.org/


Our Gallery

Basketball Arena London 2012

Time for a beer


Mo Farah Super Saturday London 2012

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