Meet the Olympic Volunteers
Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004
Olympic Games Volunteer
As a graduate student, Ms. Ichii volunteered for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. She helped spectators direct at the Beach Volleyball venue. She also played a part in the Athens 2004. Her role involved assisting photographers during the Olympics and directing spectators to the venues during the Paralympics.
Olympic Games Volunteer
Ms. Shinjo has become proficient in eight languages including English, having lived abroad and worked for foreign companies based in Japan. She has established and currently runs a language learning community for adult learners. She volunteered for the Olympic Games for the first time in Rio, where she interpreted for the women's national field hockey team and the national rugby sevens team.
Olympics; the extraordinary opportunity I was in!
––– Today, we want to interview both of you about your experiences volunteering for the Olympic Games. First of all, what motivated you to sign up as a volunteer?
Ichii ：I signed up as a volunteer for Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004. When the Sydney Olympics were held, I was enrolled in a graduate program at a university in the United States, where students must complete an internship requirement for the program. I originally looked into being a volunteer for the Olympic Games to meet this requirement, so I talked with my professor about this opportunity. I've been a huge fan of figure skater Midori Ito ever since I was very young, and I remembered how much she inspired me during my school years, so I had always wanted to be a part of the Olympic experience.
Shinjo ：I run a language school, and since last year, there have been more and more people who come to my school to work on their language skills because they want to volunteer for the Tokyo Olympics. I had no idea what level of proficiency was required for such activities. In February this year, I got to know Ms. Ichii, and she told me that she had volunteered for the Olympic Games. In April, we got together for a meal, and she invited me to join her for the upcoming volunteering opportunity, saying, "It will be lots of fun! Let's go to the Rio Olympics!"
––– So that was April this year? Only four months before the opening of the Olympic Games. Were they still accepting applications?
Shinjo ：The official deadline was two years before that, but when I asked Ms. Ichii, she said that it wouldn't be too late. So on the same day that I talked with her, I filled out an application form.
Ichii ：I think it depends on each Olympic Games, but when I volunteered for the Olympics in the past, they continued to accept volunteers until just before the opening of the Games, so I simply assumed that it would be the same this time. It turned out that I had missed the opportunity to go, however. [Laughs]
––– So what was the most exciting part about volunteering, which Ms. Ichii enthusiastically talked about with Ms. Shinjo?
Ichii ：To put it in the simplest terms, volunteering for the Olympics can provide an opportunity to be a part of something extraordinary. It opens the door for you to gain inspiring experiences that you can't get anywhere else, whether in school or at work. The Olympic Games were like month-long festivals, and it was really exciting to be a part of those events.
Shinjo ：There was an Olympic Park that hosted multiple sporting events during the Rio Games. The park was really like an amusement park. There were athletes who entertained the spectators, volunteers who joined together just like staffs at the park, and spectators who were media and visitors coming from all over the world.
––– Ms. Ichii, what were your responsibilities as a volunteer?
Ichii ：In Sydney, I helped spectators organized at the beach volleyball venue. That included tearing off tickets, inspecting the bags of spectators, directing people to their seats, and checking ID passes as people entered the stadiums. I also let spectators do the wave before the beach volleyball games, creating an atmosphere of excitement.
––– So volunteer work involves a wide range of responsibilities.
Shinjo ：I was surprised when I heard that more than 80% of the staff members were volunteers. When I talked with other staff members who served in various roles, I found out that most of them were volunteers. The Olympic Games would not have been possible without them.
––– Ms. Shinjo, what were your responsibilities as a volunteer at the Rio Olympics?
Shinjo ：I was a language volunteer and worked primarily as an interpreter. For the most part, volunteer interpreters worked in a mixed zone, an area that is a direct link from the field of play to the locker room. We interpreted for athletes being interviewed by the media. I interpreted for the Sakura Japan (women's national field hockey team) and Sevens Japan (the national rugby sevens team).
––– My impression is that interpreting requires specialized skills and experience.
Shinjo ：There are also professional interpreters who are paid to do their jobs at the Olympics. They appear in public settings and provide simultaneous interpreting services at press conferences and/or health care facilities. Volunteer interpreters receive training programs before the Games to develop their interpreting skills. Out of the 15 fellow volunteer interpreters, only one of them was a professional interpreter. I'm a language instructor, but I didn't have a lot of experience with interpreting, so I was a little worried. It's true that volunteer interpreters are fluent in foreign languages, but I feel that specialized skills and experience are not the highest priority.
Ichii ：You don't have to be proficient in English in supporting spectators at the venue. Good communication skills are more important. You can work as an essential part of a team if you can treat people with kindness, go out of your way to help those in trouble, and smile when you speak. They need someone who is a good team player, and it doesn't matter even if you don't speak good English.
––– What were the age groups of volunteers? Were there more men or women?
Ichii ：In Sydney, most volunteers were either young people such as college students or older people who had retired. In Athens, there were volunteers in their 30s and 40s from other countries, especially from Europe, because they can take long vacations.
Shinjo ：In Rio, there were more female volunteers. When I was walking on a street, trying to figure out which way to go, a female volunteer came and help me out. Only 10% of Brazilians speak English, so people communicated almost entirely in Portuguese. I didn't speak Portuguese well enough to understand what others were saying, but for some reasons, we understand each other because we are all humans. Most importantly, it was a lot of fun talking with people.
Ichii ：That's true! Regardless of your English fluency, if you treat others with kindness and respect, you can certainly become a better volunteer than someone who looks unfriendly with fluent English.
To be continued in the next volume "Special experience as an Olympic volunteer"