Volunteering to Be The Spirit Of The Olympics

The most inspiring statistic that I have learned in relation to the Olympics is that of the 70,000 volunteers trained by the Olympic Organising Committee, only four per cent dropped out before the games began.  The expectation was that there would be a 20-30 per cent attrition rate.   Each volunteer was given one responsibility to perform and many jobs required staff to be outside the arenas for up to seven hours without the opportunity to see any of the action.

As a result of a last minute rush of blood to the head I decided to hop on a flight to London with my wife to be part of the Olympic fever and maybe pick up a couple of tickets for an event. Truth be told London was not one of my favorite cities in Europe and I was expecting packed tubes, long queues, grumpy Londoners and gruff event staff. However, as soon as we stepped off the plane in Gatwick we were greeted with smiling volunteers in purple uniforms offering information and a smile. Something had changed in one of the world’s largest city.

From Gatwick to Clapham, from Hyde Park to Horse Guard’s Parade, volunteers were located at every street corner and venue directing people, demonstrating how to use ticket machines, offering advice, even if they did not know the answer to your question.  We asked one young volunteer the location of a good pub for food and he simply answered, “Take the first left, the second right and there’s three pubs. Don’t know what they are called but they’re good.”

London was a city transformed by the simple idea this was going to be the best ever Olympics.  The inclusivity of the event, driven in a major way by the volunteers, meant that people were proud of their city.  That they were Londonders and that meant something.   Each volunteer was given their own uniform, one that could not be bought in shops and this provided them with their own stake in how the games were perceived.  As a slogan “You’re part of it” was very clever and the games were not just happening in London, London was the game.

Similarly to how Ireland reacted in 2003 to hosting the Special Olympics World Games, London adopted the Olympic Games as their own and as a result has shown the world how an event can change a city and even a nation.