Volunteers v corporates at the Olympics

McDonald's at Olympic Park

If there were medals for hamburger joints, then one of the four (count them) McDonald's in the Olympic Park in London would take gold in the super-size division.

It is vast, a symbol of the global corporatism that feeds these Games - quite literally, in the case of the hundreds I joined in a queue for branded beef and buns.

The restaurant is currently the biggest McDonald's on the planet, equipped to serve tens of thousands of meals each day.

As I walked into the Park for the first time, I wondered whether the sponsors granted monopoly status beneath the sacred flame would overwhelm the fundamental principles of Olympism.

Would the spirit of London 2012 be epitomised by the fat oozing from tens of thousands of identical grilled patties or the ideals of "friendship, solidarity and fair play" which the International Olympic Committee proclaim?

What is Olympism?

IOC term for the philosophy of sport, culture and education behind the Olympic movement.

To my pleasant surprise, it was the latter. At London 2012, the spirit of voluntarism is trumping commercialism.

Profits from the marketplace pay for the Games, of course. Global business and sport are as necessary to each other as rowers in a coxless pair. But in the short walk from Stratford station to the Olympic Park, it is the people who have given up their time for nothing who leave the greatest impression.

The giant billboards urging us to buy this kind of trainer or that brand of cola are the wallpaper. It is the cheery voices and smiles of volunteers that set the mood which infects the crowds. For me, it is the Games Makers who are making the Games.

Volunteer directs spectators towards the Olympic Park

In their purple and orange uniforms, the unpaid helpers are everywhere, ready with directions and brimming with enthusiasm. They have clearly been encouraged to let their personalities bloom. There is nothing corporate about the welcome. It is individual and human. It is really rather British.

Every one of the volunteers I met seemed sincere in simply wanting visitors to have a wonderful experience. There was little in it for them other than the joy of making London 2012 a success. (Unless you count a souvenir purple and orange uniform.)

Soldiers clapping at the boxing Soldiers have been drafted in for security duties and to fill empty seats

McDonald's should take some credit for assembling this eager army. It is the burger giant that helped attract, select and train the 70,000 Games Makers who are key to delivering successful Olympic and Paralympic Games. These days, social responsibility is regarded as a vital ingredient in a quarter-pounder.

Global corporate success is dependent upon convincing customers and employees that you uphold the fundamental principles of Olympism. Multinationals know that reputation is critical to your bottom line.

That is why the biggest Mac in the world is festooned with banners proclaiming the company's commitment to sustainability. Come September, the Olympic Park restaurants will be dismantled - 75% of materials to be reused and the remainder, so they claim, recycled. Green is the colour.

The International Olympic Committee defines Olympism as "a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles".

Olympics coverage online

Olympics images

This is the spirit in which the games must be played. And I suspect the organisers of London 2012 were acutely alert to the criticism that the demands of corporate branding might engulf such noble aims.

That, perhaps, explains why salespeople wander among the crowds with signs that simply say "BEER" or "WATER" rather than the trade-name of the product granted sole rights in the Olympic Park.

The mood is not so much one of "buy me" as "be me".

One cannot help but be impressed by the soldiers who search the bags, many with stories to tell of sacrifice for Queen and country; the athletes who have devoted years of their young lives to the pursuit of physical and mental excellence; and the Games Maker volunteers who take such pleasure in trying to ensure London's guests have a good time.

The symbol of the Games for me thus far is not a giant cheeseburger but a huge cheesy smile.

Mark Easton, Home editor Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I was hugely impressed by the volunteers, so full of enthusiasm. The soldiers did a fantastic job too (good sense of humour too - the soldier who searched me jokingly grumbled about 'not getting into the Army so he could search men'!)

    This is the feeling that Danny Boyle tapped into. It's just a shame that the ticketing process has ruined it all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Greg Dyke said, that pre-Reith, the BBC was a marketing device to make people buy radios.

    More recently, it seems to have returned to that, not only to encourage us to fill our lives with electronic junk, but also to market whatever else the Government wants, in this case the Olympics, apparently.

    The Inform, Educate and Entertain bit seems to have been narrowed, just a little, recently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    So you have seen the future and it works.

    Perhaps now an essay as to the collective nature of society, the need to include all in the goals and outcomes so that privilege and entitlement become things of the past.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Given the cheers for the volunteers at the opening ceremony & the way they've made the road races & torch relay fun I have to agree. We won't be remembering the corporates it's the volunteers who are the stars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Mark, what are you on these days? It seems you have soft focused your critical skills and not detected the subtlety of propaganda used by the corporates. McDonald sponsoring the Olympics is a candidate for explaining the meaning of oxymoron. Notwithstanding the commercial oddity three cheers for the volunteers and loud boos for Cameron when he claims it is the Big Society at work.


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