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Inspirational example of Olympic volunteers

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Gordon Farquhar | 17:19 UK time, Monday, 31 January 2011

The current debate about Olympic legacy is focussed on the physical aspect. Who gets the stadium? What will be the future use of the aquatics centre and the media facilities once the circus leaves town? They're easy discussions to understand, because they largely involve numbers and the crucial point, who's paying.

On the day when colleagues have been tracking the movements of millionaire footballers on transfer deadline day, I've been contemplating the possibility of a potentially hugely important legacy from 2012 that has nothing to do with bank accounts, liabilities or financial reward.

Some 250,000 people have applied to be what Locog likes to call the Olympics games makers. Around 100,000 of the them will be interviewed for Games-time roles, 70,000 of them will selected. None of them will be paid. It's the biggest post-war volunteer recruitment drive this country's seen.

Seb Coe with Sally Gunnell

Seb Coe and Sally Gunnell talk to some potential 2012 volunteers Photo: PA

It'll take 13 months to get everyone in place, they'll undergo a million hours of training between them, and are considered crucial to the success of the London games. You'll see them everywhere in their uniforms, manning information desks, checking tickets, operating the park and rides. It's not exactly glamorous work, but the posts are more than 3 times oversubscribed.

There'll be students wanting to get something for the CV that will attract a future employer's attention. There'll be middle aged empty nesters looking for something useful to fill their time with. Pensioners wanting to give something back.

Some will be seasoned volunteers, like prospective Gamesmaker, Dawn Bracken from Chelmsford. She signed up as soon as the bid was won. Dawn told me she just wanted to be part of it, and would be just as happy picking up the litter as carrying Usain Bolt's medal after the 100 metres final....She's a swimming teacher, has worked with Cubs and Scouts, and beginning her volunteering "career" in 1977 at the Queen's Silver Jubilee Youth games. For others, 2012 will be their first foray into the concept of doing something for nothing. Organisers hope it won't be their last.

Beneath the headline grabbing financial stratosphere of Premier League football, the reality is that many sports rely almost entirely at grass roots level on volunteers. I've met a few, and typically, their resilience and commitment are astounding, as they battle to keep their clubs going, their kids playing, their competitions whirling. The problem is, they're diminishing in number as the growing demands of employers and the need to pay the bills forces most families to have two working parents, too shattered by the weekend to make the kind of commitment required.

Seb Coe is among those who hopes the London Olympics might inspire a bit of new blood to help those propping up our kids weekend sporting activities: "I've always sensed that once someone has done something, they've recognised the self worth, the broader community impact, they tend to want to stay in that pattern. What we found in Sydney was that a lot of people had volunteered for the first time, decided they really enjoyed the experience, they liked the way it made them feel, and they wanted to go on doing that in the community."

"If we can encourage people who've never volunteered before to come to the games, and then go back into sporting volunteering, that would be enough, but I think it'll be broader than that. I think they'll go back into all walks of life, and that's why we've worked so closely with organisations like Volunteer England and the National Council for Volunteer Organisations, to help us understand the nature of volunteering and how we can make this roll on beyond the games."

A quarter of a million have put their names down for London 2012, and those not chosen among the 70,000 who'll be offered a games-time role, are likely to be given advice on how to make a contribution in another way in the communities they're from.

Recruiting is taking place at nine regional centres, from Glasgow to Cardiff, Belfast to Plymouth. The volunteering legacy might not be making as many headlines as the battle for future use of the Olympic stadium, but it could touch hundreds of thousands of lives in a positive way.

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