London’s summer of sport continues tomorrow with the beginning of the IAAF World Championships, bringing some of the heroes of the London 2012 Olympic Games back to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. And while all eyes may be on that famous running track for Usain Bolt’s last few hundred metres, or Dina Asher-Smith’s chance to write her name into history, another 4,000 Runners – the Championships’ Volunteer Workforce – will be making the event their own.
For many of us, one of the most iconic images from London 2012 – alongside the lighting of the Olympic torch, Jade Jones’ Taekwondo heroics, Bradley Wiggins’ road race gold and Hannah Cockroft’s wheelchair racing dominance – was the sight of more than 70,000 volunteer Games Makers providing assistance to competitors, spectators and casual observers across the capital. Now, with volunteers back on the streets for London 2017, it’s important that we take the time to revisit the ways that volunteers exist at the heart of sport: not only for major events, but at every single level.
For many of us, the overriding image of the sporting volunteer might be a linesman running the side lines at a Sunday league match, or the coach putting distance runners through their paces at a track session on a Tuesday night. The truth of volunteering runs far deeper, though, with an army of social secretaries, treasurers, marketing specialists, fundraisers, officials and administrators supporting every tier of sport, in every part of the capital.
Data from Sport England’s last Active People Survey showed that, across London, almost 650,000 people are formally involved in volunteering in physical activity and sport. That’s a workforce more than 30 times the size of Transport for London’s permanent staff. In fact, there are more people that volunteer in sport in London than there are people living in Bristol, Belfast, Leicester or Washington DC!
While we’re fortunate to have such a widespread volunteering community in sport in London, we need to be careful not to lose sight of what encourages those volunteers to get involved, and what new skills we need to instil in volunteers to help get more people into activity in the first place. Later this year, our new Workforce Strategic Plan of Action will outline what’s currently working in coaching and volunteering in London – and how we keep volunteers involved and engaged – as well as what we need to do more of if we’re to get more Londoners active in the years to come.
Those of us lucky enough to see the IAAF World Championships in person this summer, and those of us who can remember the heady days of 2012, will experience first-hand the phenomenal impact that volunteering has for sport in the capital. The excitement and motivation generated by volunteers plays a uniquely powerful role in some of the most exciting moments in sport across London; in celebrating that we should also remember to celebrate the volunteers that help get Londoners moving every day of the year, in every imaginable sport.
If 2017 really is London’s summer of sport, then it’s also London’s summer of volunteers: with the right next steps it can also be the start of a bright, bolder future for sport volunteers in the capital.