It is only thanks to the efforts of a team of volunteers that each Olympic Games is able to welcome guests, spectators and athletes, stage competitions and make sure everything is well-organized and runs smoothly.
- Photo: some Chinese volunteers protecting a torchbearer in the Olympic Torch Relay. Source: wikimedia.org
"Please move on to the next volunteer."
The 2008 Olympics in Beijing set a new record in terms of the number of people wishing to try their hand at volunteering: within six months of the start of the events, roughly 800,000 application forms and questionnaires had been sent in to the Organizing Committee's offices, of which 25,000 were ultimately selected. The selection process may have been a thorough, high-quality one, but unfortunately this was not reflected at all in the volunteers' level of foreign languages, particularly English. Many sports fans who attended the Beijing Games came back saying that when they asked the volunteers in the city a question, the typical response they got was "Hello!" and "Please move on to the next volunteer!".
- Photo: volunteers helping to prepare an Olympic venuefor competition. Source: sportpicture.ru
What sort of people volunteered in Canada?
"The volunteers are full participants in the Olympic Games". That was how the former president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, characterized the contribution made by volunteers to the Olympic Movement, as he prepared to open the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Volunteers are people of all kinds of different ages and professions, united by the common objective of providing visitors and competitors at the Olympic Games with convenient and comfortable conditions. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that occasionally one comes across some truly unique individuals amongst them: for example, at the Games in Vancouver you could ask for help from a retired intelligence officer fluent in 10 languages, or admire the work of a furniture store owner who got up each morning and covered the 180 kilometers to Whistler, where he trampled down the ski slopes, or a family of Canadian pensioners, who had traveled to Vancouver especially for the Games from the other side of Canada two years before the Games got underway (the rules stated that they had to complete a 2 years of on-site work experience as volunteers).
The first volunteers where....hoteliers.
At the first Olympic Winter Games, which were held in the French resort town of Chamonix, the very first volunteers were a group of hoteliers, some of whose hotels were situated close to the ski slopes and other Olympic sites! After each of them had been allocated a particular area, they cleared away snow, made sure the ski slopes were in the right condition before and after the events, and helped the athletes with accommodation and catering arrangements, covering all the costs themselves. But the efforts of these enterprising volunteers did not go unnoticed, and they were soon richly rewarded for what they had done: as word spread about the wonderful way in which the first Olympic Winter Games had been organized, there was a huge influx of tourists into Chamonix, leading to rapid development of the resort and the flourishing of the whole region.
From voluneers soldiers to volonteer helpers.
It may seem strange, but originally the word "volunteer" did not mean someone who helped guests of the Olympic Games to find their way around, and trouble-shoot. In the mid-18th century, this term was understood first and foremost as referring to anyone who wished to serve in the army. Volunteer associations existed right up until the mid-20th century, which served in a huge variety of armies. It was only at the end of the 1950s that the term "volunteer" lost its strict military connotation, and took on an utterly different shade of meaning — for several decades now it has predominantly referred to a selfless person, who is always willing to help out in all manner of situations.