I’m a Games Maker…at least this is how volunteers to this edition of the Olympic Games are called. Today starts my journey to London2012 as a volunteer. I go to the first training for selected volunteers. It is called orientation training and it is the first one from a series of three preparations before the Olympic Games start.
From the sky, Luxembourg is all white and quiet. I land in London City and I must take the famous “London tube”. People rushing all directions, police cars sounds every minute…newspapers everywhere and “John Lennon” seems to be singing in the metro..well at least a big fun of him:-) the Grand Duchy tranquility seems already so far away behind: “Please mind the GAP”…the train “stays” to leave.
Getting off the train at Wembley Park tube station offers an impressive view of the mythical Wembley Stadium. It is very cold, a sunny winter morning, 8.30 AM, -10 degrees but sunny. Even London 2012 mascots are jumping all over while waiting for volunteers…freezing enthusiasm 🙂 I’m walking towards Wembley Arena, a big white building right next door to the world famous football stadium.
I have to find the North West entrance…oops..so many people already and I’ll need to queue. There’s is a line…no rather five parallel lines to get in. More than half a km of queuing on -10 degrees…only a small challenge for volunteer’s patience.
Anyway nothing seems to be like in any another sport event gathering: nobody complains about staff or organization..everybody looks extremely calm, smiling, joking..nobody shouts or tries to push. Nobody asks for any favor but simply walks slowly in line.
So many people…what am I in fact doing there in the middle of thousands of people I don’t know at all? I look at people faces. Who are they? Do I know by any chance somebody? It’s an interesting feeling…you kinda’ try to understand the other people…why are all there? They must have something similar to you isn’t it? Otherwise they would not be there. Do they all think like you? As human being it seems that we always look for a confirmation that we belong to something. We try to define mentally that something as soon as we can. We need landmarks. It’s somehow a first reaction in a new and unknown environment. We unconsciously look for landmarks and the fact that you realize you are amongst people ‘like you’ brings you somehow comfort. I see an old woman…she might be over 60 or even 70, in fact I see a lot of white hair people, lots of adults, all of them serious looking people, mostly European faces but nevertheless a few Indians or Muslims. I haven’t spotted any Asian face and unfortunately not too many young people. Very few faces I could give less that 30 years old. It’s amazing! I ask myself: is it the recruitment process (organizers have said during the application that no previous experience is needed!) or the young generations stopped dreaming and having ideals??? I tell to myself that this is just the morning session as preliminary training so young people are still sleeping after a long Friday party 🙂 There will be more (I hope) for the afternoon session). I see further in the parallel line a big big tall and wide guy wearing a white cap with a Fijian flag: official rugby world cup 2011. He also looks at me. He smiles gently. I smile back. I was wearing the same kind of official rugby world cup 2011 cap but with the New Zealand flag. We both knew we were at the same event in New Zealand at the other side of the Earth last year. I felt like I know somebody already and it was an interesting feeling.
All of a sudden a taxi stops next to my line and the driver helps the client, a lady, to get off the car into her wheelchair. A 50 years old woman without the two legs, came to serve as a volunteer for Paralympics! And she was all happy coming out of that taxi in the freezing morning. She brilliantly and speechlessly reminded me why I stand in line at minus 10 to get in a building with 10000 other people I never met in my life. So I smile, this time only to myself, and calmly wait my turn to enter Wembley Arena hall.
More than 30 minutes in line but I am finally inside now. At the entrance I am checked the bar code paper but I am not asked for any ID!? (I could have sent somebody else on my behalf J) Bag is checked as well but very superficially and only for…drink cans!!! Just corporate marketing issue for not coming inside in with coca cola from home…a gun wouldn’t have been an issue 🙂 well…
Inside, as I expected everything is set for a big…show: A big hexagonal scene with huge screens on top of it so that every one of the 10 000 invited people can see. (and that’s just the first small part of us)
Last 10 minutes to go countdown and the show begins with Jonathan Evans jumping in. Speakers coming one by one to motivate us and /or testify about the organization committee challenges, things which are done or have to be done: Jonathan Evans, Sebastian Coe, HR manager, Paul Deighton CEO of LOCOG (London 2012 Organizing Committee), POLICE chief inspector and many others. I find it interesting. I don’t perceive it anymore like a show but as a leadership coaching: all those important guys are coming to deliver a message clearly and inspire confidence. They speak in short and clear phrases. They keep using impressive words and the all talk about “you” (us the volunteers). They don’t praise anybody in the committee but the teamwork and the volunteers. They talk about Britain but not at all excessively…it’s a global event and somebody even says specifically that volunteers are from many countries not only Britain. All dialogs are built to inspire confidence and to show that everything is on track, safe and secure. They deliver these key concepts without actually giving away any details. At a glance, one feels having all questions answered…but actually practical answers will only come by email in the following weeks.
A bit of pure show is nevertheless present: There is even a taste of ‘Games maker live’ what is going to be the volunteers live TV broadcast showing volunteer stories during Olympics. They imagined a TV about volunteers and for volunteers…and it’s not a gag J
Opening ceremony is promised to be massive with traditional elements from ancient history and from today’s world. The opening ceremony budget will be under the budget of Beijing (not amazing one might think:-)).
Uniforms are presented as well. They distinguish themselves by very visible British traditional elements: epaulets and buttoned hand sleeves.
Image @ London2012, LOCOG
We’ll all be called for specific role training in the next weeks when roles will be definitively attributed. Those who are to be team leaders will have extra leadership training and finally a so called final session where one will effectively join his team. Not everybody knows its role yet. I know for instance that I’m going to be a member of the technology team but I don’t have a precise assignment yet.
Olympic Games are definitively the biggest show as well as the biggest enterprise on Earth: 200 000 people will be working for the Olympic games organization as payed stuff, contractors or volunteers.
There will be 70 000 volunteers in total. The LOCOG received quarter of a million of applications!!! (250 000) and more than 80 000 interviews were conducted up to now in order to select the first 40 000 of us.
As we talk numbers the Olympic Games mean 55 000 participating athletes in 27 venues in London and across UK, 11 million entry tickets available (most of them already sold). Finally 20 000 journalists will be accredited and over 10 millions of tourists awaited. Here are some figures regarding technology (I’ll be part of the technology team):
205 TV national providers
200 000 hours of testing
16 000 IP phones
14 000 mobile phones
14 000 TV cable outlets
12 000 PCs and laptops
900 intel and unix servers
100 high end switches
1800 wifi ports
80 000 connections in 94 venues
Enthusiasm and pride seems to be the common denominator for everybody around. You feel it…in each and every one. Everybody is happy to be there. Speakers say they expect reliability and teamwork from us but they say we must be proud in every single moment before, during and after the games. It is not a secret but absolutely clear for everybody that without the help of volunteers this biggest human enterprise which is Olympic Games could not be possible. It might sound like a Hollywood Independence Day kind of movie but that’s finally the pure truth. Volunteers make this enormous event possible and more than that: their proud spirit makes the difference between good games and Great games.
And what’s in all this for my own? Well I think almost every little thing:
Professionally speaking, I’ll be part of the biggest enterprise on Earth (at least for three weeks). I have the chance to see with my own eyes what it takes to make such a huge structure work, what are the processes inside, resources and technology used, people management, training and leadership techniques in huge environments, manage stress and meeting extremely complex service and delivery needs in what is the biggest multilingual and multicultural organizational structure (for the Olympic village facilities, 200 different spoken languages are covered by the selected volunteers in this venue). That’s a priceless experience.
From the cultural and social perspective, I’ll see the biggest show in humanity from the inside. There is much knowledge to take away from the social interactions. That’s not Facebook…that’s real life endeavor. Besides, for three weeks maybe, I’ll have my own experience as a “Londoner” with my dear wife and son in the British capital and see many places we’ve never seen in London as simple tourists. I always loved sports and traveling so this will be ‘abundantly’. I simply think it’s exciting to be part of such a big and important event and I put this as one of the 100 things one should do in his lifetime.
But the most important is the human factor. Many friends asked me “Why?” Well I answer simply: it’s the human factor. I believe the Olympic Games are the ultimate expression of humanity and everything humanity represents. I do think that Olympic Games show exactly why the mankind is so great. Games are the only exhibition where all possible expressions of human spirit can be seen: feelings, achievements, knowledge and performance in all imaginable efforts and forms. And all this is happening only once every four years. Up to now I sat on my couch and enjoyed it very much. Now, as a father, I try to give a tiny little helping hand to this humanity show so that my little bimbojimbo lovely son can have the opportunity to see with his own eyes the greatness of the mankind through the Olympic Games later on. I try to pay it forward. Do you?