Work together, help one another

Last Thursday, 5 December, the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, commonly known as International Volunteer Day (IVD) was celebrated. Mandated by the UN General Assembly in 1985, its aim is to promote volunteerism, encourage governments to support volunteer efforts and recognise volunteer contributions at local, national and international levels. 

The term volunteer finds its origins in Latin voluntārius, meaning “of one’s free will” from voluntās “will”. Supposedly, it was first used in 1755 when it got derived from Middle French voluntaire, related to military service in the early 17th century. However, organised forms of volunteering occurred only in the 19th century. Gradually, it became an international concept, notably hailed by Western countries, where around 20-25% of the population yearly offer services for free. In the context of globalisation, those with disposable incomes frequently take advantage to visit new destinations with the motive of experiencing a place or event as a volunteer and so, the fusion of volunteering and tourism has led to the recently popular concept of “volunteer tourism” / “voluntourism”.

Over the past decades, the events industry has rapidly expanded and in the sport sector competitions have been growing in size. Given that mega-events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games are time-bound and take place within a short period, they generate few permanent long-term employment. Considered to be economically and socially beneficial, volunteers have therefore become essential to the delivery of the Games. 

The Tōkyō 2020 Olympics and Paralympics are expected to count 80,000 Games and 30,000 City Volunteers. On 12 September 2018 the Tōkyō Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) announced the opening for the Games Volunteer application programme scheduled from 26 September to 21 December 2018, with an extended deadline for people with visual impairment. Candidates were to be born before 1 April 2002 and had to be Japanese nationals or persons with a valid (short- or long-term) visa. They were asked to assure devoting eight hours a day for a period of over ten days consecutively. The so-called Field Cast is supposed to mainly help at competition venues, the Olympic and Paralympic Village, support Games operations and provide services to spectators, media and others. As common, the volunteers are in charge of their accommodation and transportation to the host city. In return, they are to get meals, uniforms and ¥1,000 support for transportation per working day. 

In the beginning of the recruitment process, rather few applications were received. Therefore, conditions were lowered: the requested period of ten days got possibly adapted and the guidelines for consecutive volunteering were changed to five days. Also, Japanese companies were asked to encourage their employees to apply for the programme. In the end, the efforts were fruitful, as 204,680 people from Japan and overseas have applied. Interviews and orientation sessions for applicants who reside in Japan started in February 2019 and the general training commenced in October 2019, with a first one for English speakers the month after. Role-specific trainings are scheduled for April 2020, and from May 2020, uniforms will be handed out. Interviews and orientation for overseas applicants were held between March and September 2019 via video calls, and trainings will take place in June 2020. Twelve percent of the accepted volunteers are non-Japanese, coming from 120 countries.

In parallel, the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government (TMG) outlined a recruitment process of another 30,000 volunteers on 18 September 2018. The period for applications correlated with the one for the Tōkyō 2020 Games Volunteers. The City Cast is supposed to provide tourism and transport information for visitors at airports, train terminals and sightseeing spots. Their conditions differ from the Field Cast’s, demanding only five hours of activity per day for a period of at least five days, non-consecutively. However, candidates need to have conversational Japanese skills, and most of the recruitment and orientation is undertaken in Japanese language. Interviews and information sessions took place from February to May 2019. The selected candidates got notified in September the same year. Group trainings started on 4 October 2019 and are to be continued until late February 2020. From April 2020, role-specific trainings will take place, followed by location-specific trainings and the distribution of uniforms in June 2020 .

With all in all 110,000 event-related volunteers, Tōkyō 2020 reaches for slightly more than its Olympic and Paralympic predecessors Rio de Janeiro 2016 (56,000 Games and 1,700 City Volunteers) and London 2012 (70,000 Games and 8,000 City Volunteers). 

In anticipation of Tōkyō’s summer heat, the marathon and walking race have been relocated to Sapporo on Japan’s northern main island Hokkaido in October / early November this year. Now, concerns not only about athlete’s health and the convenience of spectators, but also about working conditions have been pronounced. Therefore, it was decided that all Olympic and Paralympic staff including volunteers will receive tablets for salt supplementation, wet wipes, instant coolants and… ice cream. A sweet surprise for the enthusiastic helpers.

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