I have great memories of the Beijing 2008 Games and in particular the way China welcomed the world with a smile. Everywhere you went you would see hundreds of members of the Chinese public, always willing to help, polite, happy, smiley. However some of them were not very well informed but I didn’t really care – they made you feel better about being lost.
However, I suspect there was also a message about China’s arrival on the world stage. All the volunteers I met were aged 18-25, well educated, graduates or students and ethnically Han Chinese. There were no old people, no disabled people, no Muslims or Buddhists. This was a statement about China’s emerging middle class.
At the time I expressed a desire that London could and should do better. In contrast to Beijing, London 2012 aimed to reflect the diversity of London and the wider UK in its volunteer force. The Olympic and Paralympic Games are a great opportunity to show off the rich diversity and inclusivity of our city and country. Of course, we won’t know the exact results against this target until after both Games have finished, but to the casual observer, the diversity of the volunteers is clear to see.
I am really proud of our Commissioners who form part of the volunteer force too. Ben Wilson, Andrew Myer, Gautam Banerji and Heather Barrett-Mold collectively have made a significant contribution to age diversity.
Up to now it seems London has done us proud, the volunteers rightly receiving a roaring cheer from the crowd as various thanks were read out at the Olympic Games Closing Ceremony. The prospect of this Paralympics being the first in history to sell out is further testament to progress in attitudes around inclusivity, as reflected in the volunteering force at the Olympics.
So as we wave a fond goodbye to the world’s Olympic champions and London takes a quick collective breather, work is well underway to transform the Park and other venues to welcome the elite sports men and women destined to become the next Paralympic champions…and our proud volunteer force practice their smiles and prepare to do it all over again.