14 August 2008
by Philip Sen
Olympic volunteers prepare to provide services at a street stall on Niujie. (Xinhua)Tian Kaili, a Chinese-American volunteer, hangs Olympic wishing cards on a tree at a street stall on Niujie. (Xinhua)The Beijing 2008 volunteers logo. (Beijing 2008)Bonn, Germany:
The 2008 Beijing Olympics is one of the biggest volunteer-involving events in history. On every street corner and in every venue, there's an army of volunteers meeting, greeting, translating, giving directions and helping visitors in every way imaginable. For an insight into what being a Beijing volunteer is all about, here's a selection of news, views and links.
The volunteers have not gone unnoticed: they've been recognized by some important people. In fact, senior UN and Beijing officials have encouraged the continuation of volunteerism for development beyond the 2008 Olympic Games. At an event held in the UN compound garden in Beijing on 7 August, United Nations Under-Secretary-General Achim Steiner saluted not only the 500,000 Olympics volunteers but all volunteers "making a difference" in development work worldwide.
Mr. Steiner was joined by the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in China, Khalid Malik, who agreed that citizen volunteers such as those involved in the Beijing 2008 Olympics needed to be "part of the solution" in addressing tough development challenges.
Anyone would think that being an Olympic volunteer is just as tough as being an Olympic athlete:
Gruelling training, stiff competition, and dreams of glory might be familiar to aspiring Olympic athletes. But this year, they also apply to another elite group: China's Olympic volunteers. (CBN news)
There have certainly been some magic moments:
Olympic volunteers won their own gold on Sunday - finding a lost wedding ring in a huge sand pit at the women's beach volleyball. (Reuters)
But the reality is that much of the time, Olympic volunteering can be humdrum and mundane:
Wu, 22, is a Beijing university student and a 2008 Olympics volunteer. He is one of 75,000 fanny-packed volunteers who will wait on the top athletes and luckiest fans. "Fun? I'm not sure the Games will be fun," Wu said. "At times I'll be bored. At times I'll be tired. At all times, though, I'll be happy." (Seattle Times)
Though the volunteers are clearly doing a good job, there are of course concerns that the spirit of the Beijing Olympics is being undermined by politics, and even the volunteers are part of this:
Go down town here and, except for the miles and miles of Olympic banners and slogans, you'd hardly know the games were even on. And around the venues the volunteers seem to outnumber the punters about three to one. (Telegraph Blog)
For example, are volunteers being used for public relations purposes as much as anything else?:
Wang Wei, chief spokesman for the Beijing Games, said organizers are concerned about stadiums that are less than full and that "from (Tuesday) we will get more spectators into stadiums." One way to do that is to truck in volunteers to act as a cheering section for both teams. That has already happened for some beach volleyball games. (Canada Gazette)
Finally, a lighter-hearted look at what it means to be an Olympic volunteer. "If you do go to Beijing and you do meet some volunteers who seem to be a little out of it, take it easy on them," the author advises… Read this irreverent tribute to the Olympic volunteers at the Chunzhu Blog.
Oh, and believe it or not, there's even an Olympic volunteers song.
For more, why not check out the official Olympic volunteers website or UNV's China site.
And feel free to add your comments below!