Olympic volunteers

Want to be part of the 2012 Olympic Games? Applications to volunteer ARe now open. Janet Wright explains what’s involved

Would you rather be a maker than a spectator? Applications open on 15 September for volunteers at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games a role so essential that organisers call them ‘the Games-makers’. And physiotherapists have a range of opportunities to be part of the action. ‘It’s an incredible opportunity to broaden your experience,’ says Caryl Becker, chief physiotherapist at the British Olympic Association, who has just come back from the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. ‘You’ve no idea what’s going to come through the door,’ says Caryl Becker, who was a volunteer herself during the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. ‘In your clinic everything is under control, but in this environment everything comes from left field, and you have to be prepared for it.’ The lucky few will be chosen as physiotherapy volunteers, with a chance to treat some of the world’s top athletes. Others will use their skills indirectly, in a number of back-up roles. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games is looking for applicants who have qualified at least three years before they apply. They have to hold the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine bronze level or equivalent, along with a first-aid or life-support qualification. They must either have experience in a Games-related discipline such as neurology or amputee rehabilitation, or have worked for four years in a musculoskeletal field. Selectors will favour those with additional skills such as qualifications in acupuncture, taping or massage. Experience in a competitive or multi-sports environment is also preferable. It may seem daunting. However, LOCOG has to take responsibility for all treatment carried out at the Games, and works within the IOC’s own strict limits.  

Tact needed

 ‘The unique challenges make the games an inappropriate learning environment for novices working independently and under pressure,’ explains Helen Bristow, the CSP’s professional adviser, practice and development. Volunteer physiotherapists will work in multidisciplinary teams looking after athletes and officials, mainly from smaller nations that do not travel with their own full support teams. They may be expected to provide a full injury-management service from assessment and diagnosis, through treatment, to rehabilitation and post-injury fitness testing. ‘They need volunteers who are aware of what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour,’ adds Caryl Becker. And discretion is vital when speaking to an injured competitor whose rival may be behind the next curtain. ‘There will be other opportunities for health professionals who don’t meet the physiotherapy criteria, such as applying to be a first-aider or a doping-control chaperone,’ says Helen Bristow. ‘Initially these may not seem to have the same appeal, but they’ll probably get you closer to the action.’ Even as generalist volunteers, physios can offer skills such as an ability to communicate and to work efficiently in a team. It’s worth mentioning these when applying. The deadline for applying to be a volunteer is 27 October. LOCOG will begin sifting through applications in November. Selection events will take place in London and other cities during 2011, with decisions being finalised before volunteer training starts in February 2012. Volunteers will be expected to attend at least three training sessions in advance and work at least 10 full shifts during the Games. They’ll have to find and pay for their own accommodation and travel to London. One thing to consider is the amount of time volunteers need to take off work. ‘It is disappointing that an agreement could not be reached to allow NHS staff who are volunteering as physiotherapists to take at least part of their leave as paid time off rather than annual leave,’ says Kate Moran, the CSP’s head of employment research.

Unpaid leave   

A letter to employers from Clare Chapman, director general of the NHS and social care workforce in England, says volunteers ‘should take paid annual leave in accordance with employees’ terms and conditions of employment (including the carry over of leave from year to year).’ However, it adds that employers may authorise other forms of leave in accordance with local policies and practices for volunteering. ‘Ten days is a fair chunk of annual leave,’ says Kate Moran. ‘It’s worth approaching your employer and seeing whether they’re prepared to be flexible and perhaps give a combination of paid and unpaid leave. ‘ The Society backs the TUC’s commitment to only using volunteers in roles where they have appropriate skills, experience and qualifications and to complement the work of paid staff not to displace paid staff or undercut their pay or conditions. Volunteers will receive uniforms, free meals and probably free transport within London. But, says everyone involved, the real reward is the unique experience. ‘Volunteers can gain transferable skills and experience by working in a team and in a sporting environment,’ says Helen Bristow. Although it’s not a short-cut to employment, a games-maker is likely to have an edge over equally qualified applicants who have never volunteered. And there’s the knowledge that it couldn’t have happened without you. ‘Volunteers really do make the Games,’ says Caryl Becker, recalling generalist helpers who had containers of ice ready when the doors opened, ushered team members to the dining rooms and made sure they were in the right place at the right time. ‘Teams who are abroad need people who understand the system and know who to ask about anything. They make all the difference between a pleasant time and what could be a bit of a nightmare.’ Fl

Further information

Find out more from physicaltherapies@london2012.com, or go to london2012.com for all volunteering options

London2012 numbers

  • Some 300,000 people have expressed interest in volunteering
  • About 120,000 will be interviewed
  • Up to 54,000 will be chosen as volunteers in the Olympic Games.
  • Another 16,000 will be chosen for the Paralympic Games
  • In each Games, 40% will be specialist volunteers
  • A total of 4,000-5,000 will be medical specialists, including physios
  • 60% will be general volunteers, such as drivers and admin helpers

You’re more likely to be chosen if:

  • You’ve had relevant volunteering experience
  • You’re flexible about what you do and when you can work
  • You have additional skills, such as fluency in a foreign language
  • You’re used to working in a multidisciplinary team

Paralympic points

The best chance to work as a physiotherapy volunteer may be in disability sports. Almost all their physios do at least some work without pay, says Rosie Mew, lead physio for Paralympics GB. Even national teams tend to include volunteer physios ‘A lot of minority sports have little funding, and that is especially so among disability sports,’ says Rosie Mew. She recommends finding a sport you’re interested in and contacting its national body directly. ‘See if there are any competitions or training programmes that don’t have enough funding for physiotherapists, and offer your time on a voluntary basis,’ she says. ‘There’s a lot of voluntary work out there that you can start doing now, building up relationships and contacts.’ ‘It’s an incredible opportunity to broaden your experience, You’ve no idea what’s going to come through the door’ Caryl Becker, chief physiotherapist at the British Olympic Association

Janet Wright

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