Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Sports volunteering - fair game?


The other day the lovely people in the volunteering team at The London School of Economics (LSE) shared their latest blog post with me via Twitter. In it they argue against volunteering at the forthcoming Champions League final - it is well worth a read.

The argument against volunteers at the Champions League final seems to be that football is a wealthy sport and so it should pay people to do the roles being advertised. This implies that there is a degree of exploitation at work here, with volunteers engaged in order to keep costs down and profits up whilst players received £millions for what they do.

I can understand that position. We’d generally say that volunteers doing the same roles as paid staff in - say - Tesco would be exploitative. In fact, that’s been a common objection to some of the compulsory work elements of the government’s Work Programme. But are these roles at the cup final the same as those done by paid staff? It doesn’t seem so.

And why object to these when no football match in the country - Premier league included - can take place without the involvement of volunteers in safety critical roles in the form of  first aiders from St John Ambulance?

A further point that the team at LSE make is that in some circumstances volunteering at big events like this is OK because whilst the event may be organised by a profit making body the people taking part aren’t well paid professionals. Therefore it was OK for volunteers to work at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, even though they were sometimes doing the same jobs paid staff were also doing. Whilst this may be true for the majority of athletes, what about the likes of Ennis, Bolt and Phelps (millionaires all) and the need for LOCOG to make as much money as possible to ensure the games didn’t lose money?

To me, it doesn’t make a difference if its the individual athletes making lots of money, the sport making lots of money or nobody making lots of money. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Volunteering in the for-profit sector is recognised as not universally a bad thing. For example, volunteers work in private hospitals and care homes doing key roles that staff would never do, enhancing patient care and providing a service everyone should expect whether they are cared for in public, private or voluntary sectors.
  2. Sport in this country lives on the support of volunteers. Coaches, officials, players, families, people who wash kit, transport kids, provide catering, run the club finances etc.. 

Big sporting events - be they Olympics, Commonwealth Games, football matches, Tour De France stages, the ICC Champions Trophy this summer or anything else - give an all too rare opportunity to showcase the importance of volunteering to sport, to society and to celebrate the efforts of our nation’s great volunteers.

Last summer’s Olympics saw the UK public getting an insight into how essential volunteers are to life in this country, how volunteers underpin the fabric of everything we take for granted. The visibility of volunteers and volunteering was massively enhanced. Shouldn’t we hope for that same effect at the Champion’s League final - and work towards supporting it to happen - rather than sitting on the sidelines crying foul?

What do you think?

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