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 Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Having spent Monday at the Olympics I have nothing but praise for the Games Makers; their warmth, enthusiasm and eagerness to help were magnificent. Their efforts are humbling. Praise must also go to the military who carried out their security duties with patience, good humour and dedication. Any suggestion that they are there to protect the corporate monoculture of the park is totally misguided.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I would have loved to have been a Games Maker - but being unemployed when they were advertising I was told that I would lose all benefits as I 'would not be available for work' during the Games.

    Fortunately I've now found myself a job - the downside being I am working instead of enjoying the Olymics :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    The volunteers are fantastic. Even in the dark at 9.30 last night they were waving and bidding the crowds a safe journey home. They truly are living up to their name of "games makers"

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I couldn't agree more Mark. The Games Makers have been the most incredible part of this Olympics. So friendly, warm and just so British. Pretty gutted I didn't apply actually.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I'm not sure the singling out of soldiers, teachers & students to be allocated tickets to fill those empty seats is in the spirit of olympism. Surely it is the involvement and "inclusion" of all individuals. Set those tickets free LOCOG...

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Good article. Having been to 2 events so far, I agree the volunteers have been nothing short of brilliant. Having spent most of my life in London, I only wish Londoners would behave this way all the time.
    The only minor gripe that I have is the military presence in combat uniform is a bit un-nerving. Its what you would expect in a dictatorship like China, not in a democracy like the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Thanks for your article praising the volunteers - I was really impressed by their very friendly, very genuine warmth when I was at the Olympic Park and I'm sure this is one of the positive things visitors will take away from these Games. OK, I'll declare an interest - my wife is a volunteer and got up at 5.15 this morning for her unpaid shift. Go, volunteers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I'm a Gamesmaker . I have no regrets. I'm lovin it!!
    I'm starting to get a little suspicious of articles praising the volunteers, Are we being used as a counter position to knock or explore criticisms to do with LOCOG, Macdonalds etc?
    So if the praise is to be believed why doesn't Seb give any empty seats (that can't go to the public) to volunteers rather than just the army and students?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    # 12 jon112dk
    LOCOG chief exec is Paul Deighton, British investment banker, former partner at Goldman Sachs. Yet I know "conflicts of interest" may arise between different parts of a bank, creating the potential for market manipulation". I'm sure,if Deighton is still affiliated with an investment bank, there exists a Chinese wall to prevent any financial link between Games & investment banking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    What security are the soldiers there to ensure, why do they search bags?
    Security against terrorists ?
    Security of profits of corporations - to make sure that someone does not bring in the wrong sort of cola ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Love them or hate them the corporate sponsors are a necessity. We could not have afforded to put on the games without them. It is up to parents to educate their kids to understand this and then they will not think that burgers make them fit!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Nice article re volunteerism. I especially like the International Olympic Committee's definition of 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". If we could only carry this definition into our lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I went to the swimming on Sunday. The volunteers were fantastic at every stage. Smiling faces, good information, greetings as you arrived and then asking if you'd had a good time as you were leaving. interesting point - I have a metal knee, the soldier scanning me said "you wouldn't believe the number of people with bleep bleep metal joints" This was 0800 on Sunday morning!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    LOCOG chief exec is Paul Deighton

    He is an ex-partner in goldman-sachs investment bank. Mail Online states he has a personal wealth of £110m

    Yet he is said to have been paid salary and bonusses totalling £536,000 pa to run the games - more than 3 times what we pay the prime minister to run the whole country

    Surely this is the sort of person who could actually afford to work for free ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    McDonalds prices were affordable. That was why there were massive queues outside. Food from other non-branded vendors was ridiculously over-priced. Here there were no queues at all. Bad planning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I am one of the Gamesmakers it make me prowd to
    Involved in the games, yes sponsored but delivered on time and on budget... I've given up my holidays as moved to London for 3 weeks, I'm missing my wife and daughter, but here I am making the games happen... We all have our own reasons for doing it, but the games will better because of us...

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    "Profits from the marketplace pay for the Games, of course"

    As games/associated costs is now heading North of **£24bn**, I think not.

    Extravagant spending matched by Corporate largesse.


    Cameron/Hunt - "On budget", not! . I remember Coe said £2.1bn

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Mark, you've well and truly bought the PR spin! Or have McD's been giving out free greaseburgers to friendly journos?

    McD's spend on CSR is minuscule compared to their revenues. The reason for their sponsorship (and, for that matter Coca Cola's) is the subliminal link it will create between sport and their brand: 'get me a Big Mac, mummy, it helps me keep fit'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Lord Coe (tory) gets £285k pa for his role. The Mail Online (23DEC07)states he has a private company - set up 16 days after the successful olympic bid - which is allegedly worth £2.7m pounds, which includes fees related to 'advice on sports related activities'

    This is the ethos of tory britain - millionaires raking it in while ordinary people work for free.


  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Well, I do believe that volunteers should be treated with respect and dignity, rather than unemployed people who should be grateful for work experience. I did try to volunteer for the Olympics but was given a menial task despite the fact that I speak 10 languages. I tried to appeal for a translator role - well, the whole story is here: bit.ly/olympics20 on my vlog. I am still disappointment,


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