CentreForum’s ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ #10 – The 70,000 London 2012 Games Makers

by Stephen Tall on August 11, 2012

ImageWelcome to the tenth in our series — Liberal Hero of the Week — as chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum.

The aim is simple enough: to showcase public figures who help promote the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book: economic, personal, political and social liberalism. We will be highlighting individuals regardless of their party affiliation, and indeed from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism then they’re in contention. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

The London 2012 Game Makers

The 70,000 volunteers who have been on constant hand to help visitors to the Olympics .
Reason: for their enthusiasm, individualism and friendly approach to showing Britain at its best.

There are many highlights to treasure from this year’s Olympics: from an uplifting opening ceremony to inspiring feats of athletic achievement. And of course Team GB’s scintillating success, with a medal tally at time of writing of 58. But perhaps the greatest achievement has been the transformation of a country and a people which can (let’s be honest) so often appear aloof and cold into a warm and welcoming nation of citizens. The 70,000 Games Makers are both the emblem and the driver of that transformation.

As a Guardian profile of the Games Makers in the build-up to London 2012 observed:

… such is the brain-boggling scale of the Olympics and Paralympics, neither could take place without them. From checking tickets at venues to operating the scoreboards in the Olympic stadium, from starting the music at the synchronised swimming to escorting athletes to be drug-tested, many of the most critical roles at the Games will be performed by volunteers whose only reward is the opportunity to say they were there. … In total they will perform 800 different roles, working at least 10 shifts, usually of eight hours each. In exchange for their labour, worth almost £500 if they were paid the minimum wage, they will receive their uniform, a travelcard for the duration of the Games and meal vouchers on the days they are working.

Everybody has remarked on their cheery bonhomie. I visited Earls Court on Monday night, and walking from the tube to the stadium our journey was assisted every step of the way by purple-and-beige-clad Games Makers. It’s not the most glamorous job in the world — but here they were, hanging around a pedestrian crossing a kilometre away from London’s least exciting Olympic venue to ensure tourists didn’t get lost, and every single one of them seemed dedicated to helping all of us got there in good time and to wishing us a good time.

More importantly, they were allowed to be themselves. There was no slick telemarketing-style corporate script they were expected to stick to robotically. Their individual personalities were allowed to shine through, most obviously for those sitting on the high-visibility, high-rise ‘umpire’s chairs’, offering a personally-styled hello and goodbye — sometimes sung — and the occasional gentle chiding of those visitors straying to the wrong side of the efficient pedestrian contraflow systems.

Even rules were occasionally bent in honour of this noble spirit. Thursday evening at the O2 North Greenwich Arena, hungry after a day at work, we bought some food inside the venue but before having our ticket checked. Officially it should have been confiscated from us. Instead, recognising an honest mistake, we were discreetly waved through. No petty jobsworth arguments to spoil our evening; just some trust and common sense.

The Games Makers’ heartiness has proved infectious: for the past two weeks, even a city as surly as London has allowed itself to be lulled into smiling at and assisting complete strangers. It’s nothing short of heroic, and for that we salute the 70,000.

* You can view our list of ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) here.