“We are nice, and if you don’t like it, screw you! .. please.”

Posted February 18, 2010 by From Behind the Fence ...
Categories: Uncategorized

I have never felt anything like watching first Alexandre Bilodeau and then Maelle Ricker win gold medals. The athleticism is amazing, but, for me, what is even more exciting is seeing these young(er) people represent some of what is best of Canadian culture – being humble, grateful, thanking their family, friends, volunteers. These games have gone farther in trying to identify those seemingly controversial and sometimes denigrated qualities than anything i have so far experienced in my life.

I first heard these Canadian qualities represented in the opening ceremony by Shane Koyczan, a spoken word artist, who was in the opening ceremonies and did a piece called We Are More. One line in there has been quoted back to me a number of times:

and some say what defines us is something as simple as
“please” and “thank you”
and as for “your welcome”
well, we say that too

This line says to me that it is good enough to be polite in a world that often times seems such the opposite. We aren’t British polite, stiff upper lip and all, but we are polite with feeling.

Bilodeau represented this, from thanking and giving credit to his brother with cerebreal palsy, to urging his teammates to go out there and get more gold. He was in all senses of the word selfless.

Ricker was as well so unassuming, she just oozed youthful exuberance. I was blown away when someone told me she was 31 – she struck me to be 18 – not in a negative way, but in a “I’m young and lovin’ life” sort of way.

So, as i know i have been slammed for writing negative things in this blog about VANOC, and I stand by my criticism, I cannot help but feel that the Olympics has moved Canada along the way to defining itself on it’s on terms. We will truly be able to stand on the world stage and say (with a smile of course) “We are nice, and if you don’t like it, screw you! .. please.”

Mistakes not recognized are mistakes that will be repeated.

Posted February 14, 2010 by From Behind the Fence ...
Categories: Uncategorized

“Olympic officials treated the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian luge athlete, less as a tragedy than as an inconvenience.” NY Times

VANOC and the media in Vancouver and Canada have moved on, hoping that the luge tragedy is a one off and will not happen again. Unfortunately the family and team of Nodar Kumaritashvili cannot. This combined with the tasering death of Robert Dziekański, suggests that Canada and more specifically Vancouver seems to be getting a reputation internationally for disregarding safety and the life of those from beyond our shores. This is not the legacy we signed up for.

Bigger, Faster .. Safer??

Posted February 13, 2010 by From Behind the Fence ...
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In memory of Nodar Kumaritashvili

I heard it on the radio and was shocked – an Olympian in the luge event was killed during a practice run. In talking with the other volunteers they were as well shocked, and expressed great sadness for both  Nodar Kumaritsashvili, his family and the Georgian team.

One of the last times that someone had died at the winter Olympics  was when Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypecki, a luge racer, died during a training run in at the Innsbruck games in 1964, along with an Australian downhill skier.  (reference: The Winter Olympics: An Insider’s Guide to the Legends, Lore and The Games.)

After the initial shock, represented by an ashen faced John Furlong’s press conference and presentation at the Opening Ceremonies where he implored people to honor the spirit of the fallen athlete, the media, athletes and other officials got down to finding out where responsibility lay. This was an issue that had been identified many years before this Olympics. The President of International Luge Federation  stated publicly in 2008 in the New York Times that the track was possibly too fast. More recently, United States luge athlete Mark Grimmette stated the day before the crash that “I think we’re probably getting close, too close, to the edge”. On the same day Australia’s Hannah Campbell-Pegg asked “To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we’re crash-test dummies? I mean, this is our lives.”

Yet, the games must go on! Contrary to the well documented past history of the problems with the luge track, the Olympics and the mainstream media have declared that it is the fault of the Georgian Olympian.

I have blogged early last week about the concerns about safety and this Olympics – specifically the concerns that Olympic volunteers, working 6 days a week for 8-10 hours shifts are put in charge of driving Olympians and others, sometimes along the Sea to Sky highway. I expressed my concern that the Olympics, unlike any other non or for profit agency, would never be allowed to do this. Any self-respecting board of directors would not allow this to happen.

I was further reminded of this lack of focus on safety on listening to Dan Russell, a local and well-respected local radio host, talking about the Olympic Torch relay and the huge number of communities it had gone to. Dan was interviewing  an organizer of the relay, and they discussed how John Furlong was behind pushing the organizers of the relay to go to more and more communities. The organizer expressed how happy yet tired he was. Again, are people being pushed too far?

The question that needs to be asked is whether this safety is being sacrificed is endemic to VANOC and the organizing of the 2010 Olympic games. Is there a corporate culture within VANOC that focuses on the need for safety first, or is it a culture that says damn the torpedoes, go for it at whatever cost? Some media seem to think VANOC and Canadian in general are blinded by the drive for gold.

The “systemic” problem argument is always difficult to argue — who is responsible for a system or organization? Yet, from my vantage point, someone needs to take responsibility.

No matter what the lawyers say, John Furlong must follow the Olympic values he promotes, take responsibility, and apologize to the global community, and, more importantly, to Nodar Kumaritsashvili and his family. He must recommit to the safety of the Olympians, staff, volunteers and all who are involved in the Olympics.

The buck stops at you Mr. Furlong. The world is watching.

Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!!!

Posted February 6, 2010 by From Behind the Fence ...
Categories: Uncategorized

Wow … you gotta wonder what the Olympics is thinking .. seems every response is out of their insanely large rules and regulations manual. What would be the purpose of taking on the Aussies over this? Its not a “corporate logo” for %^&* sake. (check out http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/aussiie-olympians-to-keep-flying-flag/story-e6frfku0-1225827069702 to get the full story)

It isn’t surprising though, seeing first hand how insanely bureaucratic and top down this place is run. Everything little thing is done and redone and triple checked, like only an organization that has 25,000 willing? mindless? volunteers could do. Someone needs to do an audit on how much paper this place uses and wastes – nothing is computerized, everything is in triplicate.

Everyone from the volunteers to the athletes to the cops think this tempest in a teapot is stupid. Time to back off IOC.

Waiting for the Olympic Spirit …

Posted February 5, 2010 by From Behind the Fence ...
Categories: Uncategorized

There has been so much written lately on the lack of spirit/support in Vancouver. A few days ago i was really getting pissed off at listening to radio station after radio station talking about the problems the Olympics were having, from snow to allocation of tickets to those evil politicians to volunteers selling their dress rehearsal games tickets (yes, i got them, no I havent sold them on Ebay).

What seemed to start happening for me is that I kept hearing so much drivel that i began to question why I was involved. My initial stance was, well, Vancouver needs to grow up and do things other big cities do. Good god, we are rated the best city in the world to live year in and year out, we need to do this kinda thing, no?

So, i am still waiting for that wave of Olympic pride that everyone has been talking about.

Or, i fear, maybe i am just in it for myself. There has been a clear undercurrent within the volunteers I have worked with that says “what is in it for me?” or  “what do i get”. It started with our trainings in which choice goodies such as pins and backpacks were given out to those who demonstrated some level of retention of the whacks of information dumped on us. As well in those trainings were questions of “do we get free tickets” or “can i go to the opening for free”. These questions were quickly crushed.

I do have to admit that there are cool things we get for  volunteering. So far I have received a  cool blue uniform (picture attached), and added accoutrements such as my hat, backpack and coffee mug. I must thank the Bay for providing these dreamy clothes … there so stretchy that i fit a medium (haven’t done that since .. grade 9?). Then, we got a free ticket to the dress rehearsal for the opening – ok it wasn’t the opening but hey — at least we got close to those $750 seats. And another bonus we got was a bottle of wine (picture included) … I am not sure if it was a limited amount of wine given only to those who were there on the first day in Squamish to pick up tickets (versus the massive line ups of last weekend to get tickets).

My Olympic Swag - a bottle of wine and a cool uniform.

Someone inside the fence told me of a spark she felt when she saw the official ribbon cutting opening the Olympic village, done by a proud Olympic volunteer, but she felt it was about 15 seconds worth.

Anyways, there are perks, but really I want the Olympic spirit. Waiting …


On my training .. my drive to the Olympics and no sleep

Posted February 4, 2010 by From Behind the Fence ...
Categories: Uncategorized

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I have come to the conclusion that getting trained to be an Olympic volunteer has been truly a unique once in a lifetime experience. As someone who has coordinated volunteers, I came into this process very interested in how VANOC was going to manage 25,000 people. When working with volunteers the first concern often goes to issues of safety. For example, I know that the provision of a safe workplace is one of the first steps one must take. And, with all the collective experience of the Olympics, it goes without saying that VANOC would provide a safe workplace for its “workforce” of volunteers … right?

The Olympic volunteer manual states clearly that “as part of our commitment to a safe work environment we have established certain rules and procedures for everyone to follow to maintain a health and safe workplace for everyone – especially you.” In regards to insurance, such as is mandatory for workers under Workers Compensation Act, the FAQ section of the manual states that “all volunteers are covered under the event that they sustain injury or illness”. Unfortunately we are  volunteers (and not volunteer firefighters), so we don’t get WCB. We were as well not informed in any way and at any time during our volunteer orientation on what our insurance coverage is.

One key component of a safe workplace is the need to be alert and awake, especially if one is responsible for others safety, or if one is operating machinery. So, when i was in my training, and someone asked the question “what is our time commitment as a volunteer”, I was  shocked to hear the response “up to six days a week, 8-10 hours a day”. What was even more interesting was that no one even batted an eye at the time. I immediately started going through my volunteer binder, thinking there is no way that they would WRITE that down now, but yet, there the hours were confirmed in black and white – “A normal volunteer day will be around 8-10 hours, including breaks.” Now as the Olympics is upon us, i can confirm that the other time factor, being how many days a week, is as well true – we are scheduled for 6 days a week, with about 4-5 days off in 30.

I know that many of these volunteers (not me unfortunately) are doing things like driving cars .. to Whistler .. along the sea to sky highway – what is known more affectionately as the  “ski to die” highway. Now, yes, there have been upgrades to this highway, but is the Olympics really trying to say that volunteers who are working 6 days a week, 8 to 10 hours a day, (NOT including transportation to and getting through security on the site), driving Olympians from Vancouver to Whistler, are in a “safe” workplace? Me thinks not!

Anyways, i am reserving judgement on this one. More on how this works out as we move forward.

If you have any stories or things to share please send an email to olympic_volunteer_2010@hotmail.com.

Theme song throw down …

Posted February 6, 2010 by From Behind the Fence ...
Categories: Uncategorized

One of the things that always distringuishes a good event is its theme song or anthem, especially in the days youtube and social media where music can go viral in hours.

There have been two “cool” videos that I have come across and have a buzz with the volunteers. One has been written for the Olympics and is done by Classified’s 2009. The other video called Wavin’ Flag is the anthem for the FIFA World Cup  in South Africa by K’naan, a Somali born Canadian singer living near Toronto.

So, time for a poll, which one do you think is better? Will announce the results in future blog.

Welcome to my Olympics ..

Posted February 4, 2010 by From Behind the Fence ...
Categories: Uncategorized

Hello. This is an unofficial blog on the experiences of an Olympic volunteer. Unofficial because, along with 25,000 or so other volunteers and athletes, we have all signed non-disclosure agreements stating we are forbidden to express our opinions on the Olympics publicly – especially through this new social media thing like facebook and blogs (read about IOC rules here). I think you can see the unfairness and plain silliness of this decree, so, as the saying goes, rules, they are made to be broken.

A little more about me and my Olympic experience. First off, i am an Olympic supporter. So, this won’t be a trash the Olympic blog. I have put in many hours of training over many months (more on that in later blogs). I came in with the belief that for all its challenges, this Olympics will be good for the City of Vancouver, Whistler and Canada. Will see what my opinion is by the end of this all.

So, this blog will allow you to follow my experience as a volunteer on a day to day basis. Of course, all names and events will be  masked to protect me, and i guess the Olympics. No data will be shared which could put the Olympics at any risk, leaving the over 15,000+ security to do their job.

So let the games begin!!


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