While the Olympic were on, I noticed that the Facebook feed of a friend of mine from way back in college featured pictures of him in the by-then-familiar uniform of the London 2012 volunteers. We have all heard the big names—Coe, Rogge—sing paeans to the efforts and spirits of the volunteers who gave of their time to help out with the Games. So, after the Games were done, I asked my friend to think back about the experience. Here it is, in his own words.
We made London 2012!
That was the theme of the London 2012 Olympics, and that is what it has left me with. I have been living in London for over two years, and my day job is working on Human Rights and Poverty with Amnesty International at the International Secretariat. A world apart from sporting events like the Olympics.
When I moved here, I knew the Olympics were going to be in town. Nearly two years ago, I saw a catchy advert for volunteers for the Olympics, and I thought, Wow! What an opportunity to do something for the Games! I was lucky enough to be in the host city, and this was a rare opportunity to get fully immersed into the games.
The process was quite long. After completing an online application, nearly 18 months ahead of the Games, there was a long silence from the organisers; quite natural, since they had over 240,000 applications to process. After nearly a year, over 100,000 applicants were invited for an interview; I was one of them. My interview session was very friendly; it was a place to demonstrate your enthusiasm, leadership skills and what you had to offer. Finally, 70,000 were selected to be “Games Makers.” And I made the cut!
The organisers invested a lot in the games makers, with quite a few sessions before the games to prepare us for the great event: we had a general induction and role-specific orientation; those of us who were team leaders got special orientation in managing people; and then we had venue specific orientation.
My specific role was as a team leader in venue security, which meant working alongside the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in venue entry. Most of my shifts were at the Main Press Centre, with a few shifts at the Common Domain which is the main open space and entry to the Olympic park.
In total I did ten shifts of eight hours each during the Games. Most of my shifts started at 6:00 am. This meant a very early start, leaving home at 4:45 a.m. to get to the Olympic Park in time.
After going through the check-in process, I would be assigned a team (a new team for each shift) of ten to twelve people. In 15 minutes, I had to get to know the names of the new team and start interacting with them. Once we reached our venue, I would assign members their duties and positions in co-ordination with the defence team leader. Work included preparing guests for security checks, soft-checking of tickets, loading trays (like at airport security) to be fed into the X-ray machine, pacing visitors to different queues, taking care of individual with special needs, scanning accreditation cards… and most of all, greeting people, chatting with them and making them feel welcomed. On a few shifts, I must have said “Good Morning” at least 300 times and it really was a good morning. We did have the opportunity to meet-and-greet some great TV and media personalities and VIPs.
As a Games Maker, this job was purely on a voluntarily basis. We did get a good uniform, training, free travel in London for our shifts, one meal a day, and refreshments. We also at times got some goodies like Olympic pins and an Olympic Baton at the end of the Olympics. So while there was no financial compensation, we were well looked after and made to feel an important element of the Games themselves.
When it came to watching sports, I was not that lucky. I was assigned security, which meant, I was never at an event venue. We did, however, get an opportunity to see some events. I got to see the basketball semi–finals, Australia versus China. It was memorable: to see top-class sports, to be in the basketball arena, and yes, to be seated in a VIP area, because the VIPs did not turn up!
The Games did leave me inspired. I got to see (on TV) quite a few games I did not know existed until then, and others that I had never really understood before. Dressage, for example. I had no idea such an event existed, but I enjoyed watching the horses and the riders, and have started reading about it. Another was fencing—and that I still don’t understand. When I wasn’t on shift, I still felt involved, still felt proud to be part of it all, so I would watch the events on the telly to keep in touch with what was happening; I started following TV sports commentators like Clare Balding on Twitter.
Of course, all of it will always be a special part of my life, but a few things stand out even more. Like the privilege of meeting and shaking hands with the Queen, the Duke and Princess Anne, Lakshmi Mittal and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
And here’s a smaller story with no celebrities: a fellow Games Maker from Germany, who I had never met before, asked me for some help with London. I wrote my mobile number down for her on a small slip of paper. Next day, I got a call from an unknown source saying that a wallet was found on the train with money, cards, permits and my phone number. I was able to reunite the Games Maker with her wallet in less than 24 hours.
I also enjoyed working alongside the UK armed forces personnel, helping me forget my stereotypes of the armed forces. These were ordinary people, doing a job, many had left their families behind, many of them were interacting with international civilians for the first time. They do have a great sense of camaraderie and humour.
The Games cost me a few days of my annual leave, some weekends for orientation and induction, and sleep lost waking up at an unearthly hour. Then I had to stay on my feet for eight hours at a stretch. But if given a chance, yes, I would do it all over again!
The overall spirit among the Games Makers was one of exuberance, energy and inspiration. Imagine, at 6:00 a.m,, a time when on usual days, the trains would be empty: you would see hundreds of Games Markers in their uniforms smiling at each other and talking as if we were all friends and knew each other for years.
If there is one thing being a Games Maker has left me with, it is this: it never hurts to have a friendly chat. Here in London, chatting with strangers is rare. The Games have taught me that most people do like a friendly talk, to share a joke or just a smile. It makes a big difference.
I end on the words of Sebastian Coe, the Chair of London 2012, who said at the closing ceremony “The games makers have the right to say: We made London 2012!”
All photos courtesy and © Savio Carvalho. Savio Carvalho is @SavioConnects on Twitter.