This morning I packed up my Games Maker uniform for the last time and finally my three weeks as a volunteer for London 2012 came to an end. Here’s a bunch of stuff that I learned about as an insider at this year’s summer games.
One: Beige trousers.
I don’t like beige trousers. To be honest, I’ve never liked beige trousers but when you’re wearing them day in, day out for three weeks, even the biggest fan of beige will be yearning for a good old pair of jeans and something, anything that didn’t have an Adidas logo on it. I understand and accept the need for a distinct uniform, after all it’s so easy to spot a Games Maker in a crowd whether you’re staff or spectator. However, when one night myself and my fellow volunteers went to the pub on a rare day off we genuinely didn’t recognise each other until we were feet away because we’re so used to all wearing the same unisex purple and red clothes.
Whilst being both unifying and a symbol of the games, walking to and from the stadium in the garish clothes wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience. You stick out like a sore thumb and even off duty you’re asked for information about the venue and the Olympics by random members of the public. On top of this you’re so restricted in your behaviour, it’s drilled into you again and again that when you’re in the uniform you’re a representative of London 2012. Let’s not mention the time we were in a cocktail bar until two in the morning with some of the managers… all of us in uniform. Then on match days Cardiff city centre would be manic, with fans out and already drunk by the time you’ve finished a shift. Occasionally you’d get drunks jeeringly pointing out “ooohhh look, and Olympic volunteer!!”… as if you weren’t already quite aware of that fact.
Two: The Branding Police
I feel sorry for the Welsh Rugby Union. Here was London 2012 invading their stadium for weeks on end and the first thing that they did was to cover up any and every logo in the place (thankfully they kept the nice pictures of the Rugby players with the lovely bottoms) and rugby doesn’t even get a chance to shine in the Games! But it wasn’t just that; every television in the Media Lounge had it’s logo taped over, every piece of advertising was hidden underground and the whole building was coated in pink and purple LOCOG branding. I’m not saying I didn’t like the branding, in fact I actually love the styling of the Games… and I definitely don’t have a five foot London 2012 poster ready to go up on my wall when I return. It’s the utter debranding of every stadium and venue. They have a lot of history and LOCOG are covering it up with bright colours and strange angular shapes.
During the early stages of the football tournament the Brazilian women’s football team committed a piece of PR magic. During training they invited a handful of Games Makers to get into Brazilian kit and practice with them. However, as Games Maker uniform is Adidas and the Brazilian team are sponsored by Nike they had to spend 20 minutes beforehand taping over every logo on the lucky volunteers’ borrowed kit just in case -horror of horrors- a London 2012 volunteer is seen brandishing a Nike logo. In my mind all of that seemingly unnecessary preparation makes your really aware that the whole thing was a PR stunt, even if it was a really good one.
I don’t think I’d ever used the word “accreditation” before the Olympics but now I’ve found myself spotting accreditation on the BBC coverage and thinking “oooh, they’ve got good accreditation, I bet they can go everywhere”. As a lowly press operations monkey I got a nice big number 4 (that’s for press areas), MIL (that’s the Millennium Stadium) and OCOG (I think that means I’m workforce… for all I know it could just mean I’m human). The best one I saw was that of an IOC photographer, a lovely man, contracted to photograph athletes’ mothers as they watched their children represent their country. Now he had LOTS of numbers, he could happily have a picnic on the roof and bother the seagulls if he wanted but of course the Millennium Stadium stewards didn’t like it and it gave me a lovely chance to tell one of them off.
The one problem with the accreditation was that not everyone was given the correct accreditation from the start. The only member of our team that could access the training ground was Luke’s car. We had to get upgrades, then there was the Field of Play cards for each match from FIFA, then the photo marshal bibs and countless other accreditation needed around the venues.
There were two signs of how important someone was: 1) the amount of numbers or upgrade cards they had and 2) how many pin badges they had. We Olympic types… we love pin badges. Do you have any pin badges? Or lanyards? Ooh… stuff that… do you have any chocolate?
Four: Bribery, Bargaining and the Black Market
Money is power, but not at London 2012. When no-one’s getting paid the important things are chocolates, free things and alliances. You think I’m exaggerating? No chance.
The first week was a dark time for us. With no Cadbury’s until the Games officially started rations were scarce and the press team were pretty much top of the food chain. Each day a volunteer would add the the supply of chocolates, sweets and cakes (the Welsh cakes were a prize commodity) hidden in a desk and we would use them to sweet talk technicians and stewards to get them on our side.
After the Cadbury’s arrived other sectors had buying power too. Occasionally we’d trade sweets for the luxury of the use of a lift key, one day we traded a pile of Japanese media guides (the Japanese press team gave us hundreds to give out to the media) for some London 2012 mouse mats. As the games went on more free stuff emerged, we’d trade and bargain for pin badges, pens, lanyards. Sometimes if you did a favour for a journalist they’d give you something interesting. Yesterday I found some Indian restaurants in Cardiff for a photographer and got a commemorative Fencing 50p and stamp.
The trade of information was hot too. Everyone had access too things like fans, spray, Cadbury’s, water and the like (Wales surprised us all and gifted us some gorgeous weather) but when you’re down in the depths of the stadium the information doesn’t always get to you.
Knowledge was power. And so was chocolate.
Five: Operation Liquid Gold
Okay, soldiers… we’ve got men out there… brave photographers out pitchside. And it’s hot out there, real hot. Our mission is to get them water, sneak it out however you can, just make sure to keep them happy.
So that’s what we’d do. Do you fancy sitting out in the baking sun for the full 90 minutes (twice as long on doubleheaders? No, neither do I. No water allowances were made for photographers and the watercoolers in the newsroom were designed to stop one filling up a water bottle. We Games Makers, however had a constant supply of water bottles so every match day we’d pilfer crates of water from workforce, pack up backpacks and head down through the stands to the thirsty photographers busy at work.
Now, photographers and journalists can be a demanding bunch, they’re hot, stressed and have a job to do but when you’re the one that appears out of the crowd and hands them a cool bottle of water they love you and most importantly they’ll behave.
Footballers are egotistical brats, don’t you think? The world’s obsession with football has turned the professional players into spoilt millionaires that ruin the perception of the game. But the under 23 teams that play at the Olympics haven’t been spoilt yet. They’re passionate, driven and humble. Last night one of the bronze medal winners from the Korean team stood amongst the journalists, beyond the barriers chatting and discussing the game. (“Oh no!” says Barbara, “One of the flock has escaped the pen!”) Even GB coach, Stuart Pierce stepped beyond the barriers with no pretension. In his post match press conference Korean Coach, Hong Myung-bo said of the team’s celebration (not only had they won bronze but this meant no military service) “It is a big disaster in the changing room. The players went crazy and threw everything about. I couldn’t go inside and had to wait outside until the press conference began. It was just crazy.”
And also, Craig Bellamy has tiny tiny hands. Yep, that’s my exclusive Games Maker Fact of the Games.
Sepp Blatter is a PR disaster for FIFA. As the face of the dodgy side to the football organisation I was expecting my first impression of the FIFA representatives at the Cardiff stadium to be a bad one. But no, FIFA Steve, FIFA Bruno and FIFA Andreas were all lovely. They were helpful, pleasant and spoke on a level to all of the volunteers. FIFA has such a bad public appearance that I would have never seen myself in a bar (and once even a Hilton conference room), socialising with not just my fellow volunteers but also FIFA staff.
Steve would always stop and chat in the Media Centre, occasionally wandering to the helpdesk for a natter when he wasn’t needed. This was rare but amusingly he always seemed a little rejected if no journalists, broadcasters or teams needed his skills. In the last week he even took the team out for steak and made sure to swap contact details with many of us. And y’know, you could be anyone* and I’d adore you if you bought me steak.
See you in Rio!
So there you go! My top seven insider nuggets of wisdom from my time at the Summer Games. It’s been hard work and a long three weeks but utterly worth it. Whilst London 2012 has it’s many flaws, it also has spirit and I’ve gained main friends and memories that’ll last a long time.
Contact me in the comments down below or on Twitter (@gingersuzal) if you want to ask me anything about working with LOCOG, FIFA and at Millenium Stadium.
*Probably not Hitler. Even if it was realllly good steak.