The Rio 2016 Focus On Volunteers Will Ensure Olympic Success
Four years ago I wrote an article about the London 2012 Olympic Games. I asked why British people were so critical of the games in London and the article was immediately flooded with hundreds of comments telling me what an idiot I was to think that the people of London might actually enjoy the Olympics.
Once the opening ceremony was complete and the games started London did embrace the games and it was universally acknowledged as one of the best games ever. Now on the eve of the opening ceremony in Rio, Brazil faces the same barrage of complaints.
The economy is broken, the president is being impeached, everyone will catch the Zika virus, the sea around Rio is polluted, why waste money on sport when people need better schools and hospitals? These are the questions the media is endlessly recycling at present, yet it was exactly the same before the games in London – we just choose to forget that Brits were unhappy about the Olympic budget and security risks because we all had such a good time back then.
I believe the political problems will be forgotten once the sport begins, and the Zika virus? Who worries about that – except foreign journalists – when mosquitoes also carry Dengue, malaria, and Yellow Fever?
I know the Rio games will be fine because I’ve already been to one of the Olympic events. Although the official opening is on Friday, I went to the women’s football first round in São Paulo on Wednesday. Canada beat Australia 2-0 then Germany hammered 6 goals past the Zimbabwe team, who did at least manage a single consolation goal.
The Brazilian fans overwhelmingly chose to support Zimbabwe in a typical example of fans choosing to get behind the underdog – although at this game it went so far that every time the Germans touched the ball the stadium echoed with boos and every time a Zimbabwean player got the ball there were cheers. It was amazing to see and feel the joy of the Brazilian crowd when Zimbabwe scored.
But what gives me even more confidence that the games will be a success is the way that the organisation of logistics appears to have been carefully copied from London. All public transport, such as trains and buses, have been flooded with multilingual signs to help fans find venues and even describing how to pay for your bus journey.
Rio has taken on board the biggest lesson from London – the volunteer “Games Makers” that flooded the city and answered questions and offered assistance to fans throughout the games. The London 2012 Games Makers were consistently mentioned by fans and commentators as a key reason why the event was so enjoyable. Rio has recruited over 50,000 volunteers to repeat this success.
Over 20% of the Rio volunteers are from overseas and all of them can use English, so even if you are visiting the games and can only use a little Portuguese, there is always going to be someone around in a Rio 2016 uniform that can help out.
I saw them in action myself yesterday, guiding fans around the enormous Luz station in São Paulo. Even locals can get lost in there and yet the fans all found the right train for the football stadium at Arena Corinthians.
I believe that this focus on the frontline customer experience – ensuring the fans always have help when needed – will ensure the success of Rio 2016. I’m attending another event in São Paulo this weekend, Brasilia next week and then I’ll be in Rio for the final weekend of the games. I’m looking forward to the sport and seeing how the usual media negativity will be reversed once the opening ceremony begins!