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  • Articles by Mary

    Olympic Volunteer

    Olympic Volunteer

    As an Olympic and Paralympic volunteer I found all the kudos a bit unnerving.  The image of volunteering as selfless giving didn’t really fit my experience and also muddies the water in terms of thinking about volunteering legacy.  To understand what went right, and it went very right, we need to think about what pulled 70,000 people into the Games maker role.  What was in it for them?

    Conversation on the topic always elicited phrases like “wanted to be part of it”, “once in a lifetime” , “centre of the world”.   My own experience was partly based on very local allegiances.  I was working in an Olympic borough, lived in an Olympic borough near several proposed venues, and knew the run down area near Stratford depressingly well.  I thought getting the games was a huge present for me and my neighbours and knew I had to be there. 

    The selection and training process built on and enhanced this feeling of specialness.  The application form was pages long with detailed instructions.  It contained brief description of all the various work areas, from catering to entertainment to transport.  These were real jobs that needed to be done and we were invited to make our pitch for inclusion.  Here was a chance to see the inside of “the greatest show on earth”. 

    The selection process was upbeat but demanding.  We were warned that most applicants would not be successful (one in seven we were told).  We attended proper interviews with difficult questions and watched inspirational videos about how great it, and we, would be, if we were chosen. 

    Not many volunteering jobs will benefit from the reputation and hype of the Olympic and Paralympics.  Often there are issues about the relation of paid to unpaid work in organizations, with volunteers being left with tasks no one else will do.  The “something bigger than oneself” demands a high level of personal commitment to sustain volunteering in these settings. 

    I have no idea why I was so keen to be part of the Olympics.  I’m not sporty, haven’t followed previous Olympics, and practically never volunteer.  In the run up to the games, watching the rain, hearing the transport warnings, and watching my cynical friends depart for sunny climes, I was mildly embarrassed to have signed up so completely.  I don’t know how I knew it would be magic, but I did, and it was, for all of us. 


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