Olympics call for volunteerism
by Spiros Tzelepis
Just two years before the next Olympic Games in Athens, the Olympic Spirit calls us to forget the competition and individualism that dominates our age and join our efforts to serve a common goal, the success of the Games and feel the satisfaction of volunteer work. With these thoughts, I asked the volunteer division of ATHENS 2004 for an interview on the issue. So, I would like to introduce Mrs Effie Constantinidou, Section Manager, Volunteer Recruitment Division who kindly offered to answer my questions.
Could you provide us with info on how the institution of Volunteers was established and what is the actual meaning?
- Back in 1896 (Modern Olympic Games in Athens) a number of anonymous individuals offered their services in the Olympic Games. From 1896 to the pre-war period, the army and some local organizations used to assist partly during the Olympic Games, however, in Munich (1936) and onwards it became more organized. In 1980 (Winter Games in Lake Placid) volunteers were becoming more necessary and finally in the Games in Barcelona (1992) the first complete and integrated Volunteer Program was established and the need for volunteers to support the Games became more apparent.
Besides serving practical needs of the Olympics, is there any deeper purpose?
Olympic Volunteers have also a symbolic role in the Games. In fulfilling this role, they will have to coexist with people of different cultures and nations and cooperate all together aiming for a common target. Individuals will learn new things, will establish new friendships, will increase self-commitment and responsibility. In addition, by participating as a volunteer someone will be given the opportunity to contribute to the success of the Games and most importantly he will gain valuable knowledge.
What are the needs for Volunteers in ATHENS 2004?
We need 60,000 volunteers in total for the Athens 2004 Games.
45,000 volunteers will participate in the Olympic Games (13-29/8/2004) and 15,000 volunteers will participate in the Paralympics (17-28/9/2004).
What is the response of the people for volunteer recruitment?
The response of the people for volunteer recruitment is really beyond our expectations and this has become more obvious after our latest volunteer campaign, which has a great appeal to the Greek people. Gradually, people become more and more aware of the importance of the volunteers in the Athens Games and they express a very strong desire to participate.
From what we have understood so far, is the reaction of the Greeks towards volunteerism different from other nations which hosted Olympic Games? I am saying this, because I believe that the notion of service for a common goal is far more developed in other countries (for example, I know that in the USA community service in general is very common).
As you are well aware, volunteering in Greece is not officially established by the State, as it is in many other countries. The concept of volunteerism in Greece is at large connected to philanthropy, and goodwill. In this respect, people are not very familiar yet with this kind of volunteerism, but we are confident that this attitude will be altered as we are approaching the Games and will be of value to the heritage left from the Olympic Games of 2004 to the next generations.
It would be interesting to add, however that despite the fact that Greek people are not really very familiar with volunteerism, we have registered in our database so far more than 800 Greek volunteer organizations that have expressed their interest to participate in the ATHENS 2004 Volunteer Program. Also, we have collected and registered approx. 60,000 volunteer application forms in a period of 13 months which is really excellent.
Many voices have been heard on the necessity of the institution. What is your response to them and finally, why should someone become a volunteer?
Considering the numbers of volunteers needed for the Games, we can easily understand the importance of their role.
"No Volunteers, No Games!". Volunteers will make the Games happen. They will support every athlete, every spectator, every visitor, every functional area in all competition and non-competition venues. They will have the chance to meet people from different countries and nationalities. They will gain precious experience and contribute to the success of the games. Volunteers will be assigned a position in areas like: Spectator services, transportation, ticketing, Sports, Language services, International relations, Villages, Information Technology, Medical Services, Press Operations etc. Volunteers that participated in previous games comment on their experience as an unforgettable one and they look forward to participating again.
Lastly, could you tell us about your experience in working for the Volunteer Division of ATHENS 2004?
- After one year in the Volunteer Division, I can assure you that it is a unique experience for me. Although difficult, it is fascinating especially when communicating with the prospective volunteers from around the globe, studying their reactions and behaviors, understanding their concern and anxiety on whether they will be selected or not, and most importantly watching how they express their strong desire to participate as Volunteers in the ATHENS 2004 Games. For many of them, the fact that the Games have returned to their birthplace, is a life dream.
I consider most of my experience as valuable knowledge gained and I'm pretty sure that I will miss it a lot after it is over.
For more information on Volunteerism, check the ATHENS 2004 website under the section "volunteers"
Special thanks to Michel Filliau for making this interview possible
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