Edition number 43; dateline 4 July 2011

Waiting for the volunteers' gold medal

As I write we are marginally free from football (although, considering our poor, overworked players are on holiday, a lot of back page space is still being devoted to the nation’s, although not Sideliner’s, favourite pastime); we are deep in our annual fortnight of tennis; and the media is really beginning to ramp up our need to hate the Olympics by reminding us every hour that most of us have been unsuccessful in getting our grubby little paws on the prized ticket to watch Usain Bolt run for under ten seconds. Ever a ‘glass half-full’ sort of person, I will hold on to the thought that I couldn’t afford the hotel bill to stay in London even if I had managed to purchase a ticket for the beach volleyball, which is apparently the sport of choice in our household.

You will all be pleased to know, however, that I still have half a chance to see some Olympic action next summer as I am part-way through the selection process to be a volunteer. This process started some time last autumn when I was encouraged by both of my governing bodies of choice to apply as a volunteer using a special code. Being a well-behaved sort of person, I did as I was requested and applied.

As the long, cold winter passed and we approached spring, I still hadn’t heard anything other than there were lots of selection events but not one for me yet. I also learned that the food outlet of champions, McDonalds, and the other nutrition empyrean body, Cadbury’s, are sponsoring the volunteer programme. This sounded promising: at least we would be fed something if selected; in fact one of the key nuggets on the LOCOG volunteer website tells us that: “Being a Games Maker will not entitle volunteers to ‘access all area’ passes or free tickets, but we will provide Games Makers with free meals during their shifts.” Burgers and chocolate. Mmm.

Just like our appetite for the tickets, our desire to be involved in all things Olympic has filtered into the volunteer programme. It seems that 240,000 people have applied to be a volunteer or, as they are branding them, a Games Maker, and only 70,000 are required. It would also seem that, despite the media’s attempts to dampen our enthusiasm for the big event, we, the nation, are definitely ‘up for it’. No empty stadiums for us and no coercion of volunteers, although I am sure this has never been the case elsewhere; ever.

But I digress: back to my Games Maker journey. A few weeks ago I was eventually contacted and asked to attend a Games Maker selection event at Warwick University near Coventry. At last I was on my way! It became even more exciting as, soon after the first invitation, I was contacted and asked if I would volunteer at the London-Surrey Cycle Classic – a key Olympic test event in August.

At this point, I ‘twitted’ (@TLRTubster) my delight at this honour only to receive a number of remarks about being “a little soft”, “daft”or “being brainwashed” for giving up my time for free at any of these large events. I was more than a little surprised at this response as my volunteering activities usually receive positive support so I gave it some thought. The only possible reason for this negativity that occurred to me was that I was volunteering for a large, national organisation which isn’t about doing ‘good works’ but about delivering a highly commercial event. If this is the reason for the cynicism, then I can see the logic and I do have some concerns about the ability and desire of the country (perhaps that should read “the government”) to truly deliver on the legacy promised both to us and to the world in Singapore. Should I really continue with my quest to be involved?

Having weighed all this, I am still committed to the cause because ultimately I want to be a part of my community (the UK in this case) in delivering something that both we and other communities (other countries around the world) will thoroughly enjoy and I am supporting the participants in their personal quests in sport. Is this so different to volunteering at my local club events? In addition, I will get lots out of the experience. I will learn new skills, I will meet lots of wonderful people and I will work as part of a large team (something I don’t do much anymore). It is true that I am putting lots in – my time, current skills, the cost of travel and accommodation – but this is something we do in the world of sport on a regular basis. I have been known to travel far and wide in Europe on my volunteering quests so London seems quite close.

I am told that it will be October or beyond before I am informed whether I have been successful, a year after the process started. Normally I would be critical of any organisation which took so long to engage me as a volunteer but they do have a lot of interviews to conduct I suppose and I will be getting on with my other volunteering activities which will keep me out of trouble, For a start I am off to learn how to be a road and time trial coach with British Cycling. I wonder if Dave Brailsford needs a hand with his little team in France over the next few weeks? The world of a volunteer is rarely quiet and I am sure that if I asked any other volunteer, they would not have it any other way.

A volunteer I once worked with described his experience of carrying the Beijing Olympic Torch when it visited London to me. “This was my Olympics,” he said. “To have all of my family watching me. I feel so proud of all the volunteering which has brought me to this point.”

Despite all of the national-level cynicism, which I am sure will be around for most of the next 12 months and despite  some of my own, just like my volunteer friend and just like all of the athletes, coaches and support teams, if selected, being an Olympic Volunteer will be the pinnacle of my volunteering career. It will be an unique experience as I can’t see me being allowed to fly off to Rio for a month in 2018 but do you know, as I develop (or ‘get older’ in plain Derbyshire speak), I have realised that I love being with folks both young and less young taking their first steps in sport and seeing their joy as they discover new skills. So when all of these exciting times are over, I will still be very happy to be with the under-5s at my local cycling club or leading a group of women on a Breeze Ride. See you out there.


Kay Adkins is an executive board member of a county sport partnership, chair of a CSN and a member of the interim board of the National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure. Kay is also managing director of KAM Ltd, which offers a range of support services in the sport and leisure industry working in volunteer/workforce development and facility development.

To find Tales from a Tub in previous issues please visit the Comment page.


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