Guest post by Dmitry Chernyshenko, President and CEO of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Sports ministers and stakeholders from across the EU met last week at the SportsVision2012 conference in Copenhagen, organised by the Danish Presidency of the EU, to discuss vibrant and healthy sport for all, with a focus on increasing participation in sports volunteering. In light of this I’d like to share our Russian experience of driving volunteering in preparation for the upcoming Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.
Our target is for 25,000 volunteers from across Russia to be the “face” of our Games, but most importantly to leave a lasting legacy for generations to come. The concept of volunteering was not as well developed or understood in Russia as it is in Europe. The number of Russian people regularly involved in volunteering represented only 9% of the population, compared to an average of 30% in Europe, so we had to work in a different environment.
The European Commission’s assessment of the European Year of Volunteering 2011 confirmed what we in Sochi already hoped for- the sports sector can mobilise more volunteers than any other. At the SportsVision2012 conference it was noted that there are 35 million people involved in volunteering around sports in Europe- a spirit that today is also catching Russia!
The concept of volunteerism was practically non-existent when we won the bid. In the EU, volunteering depends on each country’s initiatives and informal agreements. Some of these initiatives are particularly attractive, such as making sports centres and other sports facilities in certain cases exempt from land rental (Lithuania), and providing tax breaks for sports volunteers (Denmark).
To revive volunteering in Russian society, especially within the youth audience, we had to think of the most effective approach, which is probably unique to Russia. We have thus set an example for many other European countries, by enshrining volunteer status in law. In practice this means that volunteers in Russia have a legal right to medical insurance and to be reimbursed for costs related to their activities. We also worked hard to introduce a dedicated visa process for overseas volunteers travelling to Russia.
I believe this change contributed to the massive volume of applications we received at the opening of volunteer recruitment in February of this year. On the first day alone we had 10 000 bids from candidates. We are currently at over 56 000 applications, coming to a large extent from young people aged 17-22. And we now have 26 volunteers centre across Russia, all of them created with the cooperation of local educational institutions. They have proved to be a real driving force behind our events held all over the country, working on a daily basis to promote the spirit of volunteerism.
I consider volunteering around sport, however, as more than just a tool for improving public health, social inclusion and active citizenship at the national level. It is also a way of deepening relationships at the international level in line with the spirit of Olympism. Our volunteering drive has already reinforced our relationship with our British counterparts who are preparing for the 2012 Olympics, with over 100 Sochi Volunteers teaming up with London “Games Makers” to help with the organisation of the Olympic and Paralympic games.
Overall, volunteering is about getting people active, included and empowered- at the local, regional, national and international level. I sincerely hope that people from Russia and the Rest of Europe recognise this potential and support greater mutual cooperation through volunteering.