Large scale and mega events often have effects on whole economies and they resonate in worldwide media. These include major sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, World Cups, the Commonwealth Games, some world championships, but international exhibitions, such as World Expo, Special Expo, also belong to this group. These events constantly grow in size, whether it is the number of attendees or the financial capital involved that is being considered. They stimulate tourism activities, play part in a host city’s destination marketing, but can also be vital components of further development strategies for the host city or country, whether for regeneration, sports development, image change or showcasing.
Large events can prompt community endurance. The spending of tourists, job creation, infrastructure developments and improved profile have the potential to further generate both economic and social benefits. Visitors spend their money in small local businesses, there are new sporting venues, roads and green spaces being built. There is potential for the growth of community pride, confidence, positive image building and social inclusion of disadvantaged groups of people.
Employment creation has always been an important point in question for bidding cities and countries as a motivator for hosting international events. However, the most noteworthy labour input, mainly at the time of staging an event, is contributed by large numbers of event volunteers that usually carry out various tasks, from taking care of visitors and part-takers, through healthcare, up until the logistics during an event. According to Ingerson (2001), volunteers significantly strengthen and contribute to both the economic and socio-cultural dimension of mega events. Volunteering in large sporting events becomes an indispensable piece and constitutes one of the most valuable resources of their organisation. In addition to indisputably determining the success of the execution of sports events, it promotes the values of sport in society. Voluntary participation in these types of events contributes to the personal growth of each individual to the extent that they feel useful and part of a great team whose work has an international and large impact. An experience that can be transferred, without a doubt, to other areas.
The OCOGs (Organising Committees for the Olympic Games) demand a high level of motivation and willingness to work selflessly in solidarity, which voluntary helpers should provide for the games out of conviction. At the same time, they expect compliance with the guidelines of the IOC. They contractually oblige the helpers to comply with the regulations, which affect their auxiliary activities as well as their behaviour and appearance. Volunteering is not just about providing practical support for the sporting event, but also about promoting the “universal values” of the Olympic movement such as peacefulness, solidarity, friendship, mutual respect and understanding as well as successful multicultural cooperation.210 This makes it clear how it is important to the IOC to create a unity among the volunteers. Olympic critics see this as the exploitation of cheap and willing workers through their high level of personal and selfless commitment (cf. Lenskyj 2002: 147).
Research on volunteering has focused on aspects such as recruitment and selection of volunteers (Ringuet-Riot et al., 2014); in intrinsic motivations (Lee et al., 2014); in the cost and benefit of participating in this type of activities (Hallmann and Zehrer, 2015) and the satisfaction of the people who exercise this role, carrying out studies that recognize fundamental factors for the maintenance of the volunteer role. These include organizational support, the effectiveness of participation, empowerment and integration in the group (Arias and Barrón López de Roda, 2008, García-Pérez, 2013). Likewise, Fresno and Tsolakis (2011) state that commitment, critical awareness, social awareness, and social relations are positively important to facilitate and promote the work performed. In this regard, Fresno and Tsolakis (2011) point out that volunteering consists essentially of human relationships, interactions between people and groups and consequently ways of building tissues and social network. According to Putnam’s (1993) hypothesis, the formal organizations of the community (parties, associations, associations, enterprises) are formed by personal informal connections. Social capital can be created through informal and formal partnerships, meeting public or private needs. It may be bonding, social or psychological support, assistance that less fortunate members of society may enjoy. It can also act as a bridge (bridging) between, for example, different ethnic groups or eco-religious groups. It has also been noted that some of the factors that are related to the increased satisfaction of volunteers with their activities, occur when there is compatibility between their tasks and functions, that is, when they feel that their work is essential, beneficial and significant ( Littman-Ovadia and Steger, 2010). Voluntary work is distinguished from other functional systems, because it is considered much freer, more concrete, with more immediate and visible results. It is even considered and evaluated in terms of intangible benefits, which may even be greater for those who do it than for the beneficiaries (Miranda and Mayne-Nicholls, 2011).
The fundamentals of volunteering at mega events as they are known today, the big programmes that people from all around the world sign up for months before the event commences and consequently get serious official appraisals from organisers, have slowly developed over thirty years mainly during Olympic Games, events that are considered to be flagships of mega events. The Olympic volunteering made small appearances during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, during the carrying of the Olympic torch. Until the Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid (USA) in 1980, a volunteer program was not created with the aim of preparing and training the action of about 6,000 volunteers. It was at the Los Angeles Games ’84 (USA) when the volunteers were fully integrated into the structure of the organisation – the support of about 29,000 people was recorded. Since then the number of Olympic volunteers has been growing, both in the Summer and Winter Games. The Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992 set a precedent for both international Olympic volunteering and volunteering in Spain in general. The concept of Olympic volunteering is born (recorded in the official memorial of the event). For the first time in the history of Olympics, there are volunteers since their candidacy: more than 35,000 Olympic volunteers and 7,000 Paralympics volunteers collaborated, and then received countless praise from the media and institutions for their participation. In Sydney 2000 the role of the volunteers rises to the point of being placed as an image of the event by coining a slogan that has been central to the work with volunteers in countless subsequent events: Volunteers are the public face of the games.
Before the Barcelona Olympic Games, 60,000 registered volunteers from all over Spain participated in the bidding phase of the Barcelona project, which increased to 102,000 at the end of 1986, after Barcelona’s nomination as host city for the 1992 Games. The volunteer training plan was divided into three stages: general training for the Olympics and sports (conducted through courses, interviews, conferences and film shows); special training for the designated workplace; and finally training at the right facilities to learn about the facilities and meet the operational team. In addition to the training plan, there was also an incentive plan to develop and maintain volunteer enthusiasm and pride. The 102 thousand trained volunteers obtained merchandising products (such as exclusive uniforms), some of them got scholarships abroad to learn languages, there was a special magazine printed only for volunteers, nationally broadcast radio station for four years, recreational and networking parties to facilitate one of the slogans of the programme: A friend is waiting for you. Out of the more than 100 thousand potential volunteers that had been trained, only 50 thousand finally participated in the Games. The official report of 10 years’ progress in the legacy stated that the volunteers were the main transmitters of the Barcelona project throughout Spain, creating bonds of affection between all the volunteers and, by extension, between the relatives of these volunteers. After the main events were over, the plan of the COOB’92 (Organising Committee for the Barcelona Olympic Games) was to articulate a project that would continue the work that had been done. Partly, it has been successful, but there were initiatives that did not work out as expected. An example of the more successful actions was the implementation of a new law about volunteers, stating their rights more extensively or the distribution of trained volunteers to organisations in Barcelona that requested them. On the other hand, an initiative to encourage the use of voluntary workforce during the Expo 92 in Seville, had been unsuccessful to measures when the whole Seville Expo 92 volunteering initiative had been cancelled.
In The Pedagogy Magazine, Rosa López D’Amico, referring to the her experience of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, talked about the influence of volunteer participation in this type of event both in the collective and in the society that hosts the event. This author refers to how volunteers experiment with their work, as well as elite athletes during their preparation, a series of key capabilities in achieving achievements: discipline (which teaches, orders, methodises and regulates the process to follow), patience (to analyse the difficulties and overcome them, and provide a person with endurance and maturation), concentration (to maximize attention and direct the energy towards a person’s goal), determination (to make decisions that bring people closer to their goals) and commitment (as members of a work team to each other). Moreover, in Sydney 2000 Australians became aware that the image that the country was going to project depended on the progress of the Games. The slogan that the organising committee has stated – Volunteers are the public face of the games – clearly reflected this intention.
After the 2014 Olympic Games held in Sochi, Russia, the legacy report highlighted the positive impacts and benefits of the volunteering programme. Amongst them, there were mentions about the acquisition of new skills, life values and personal virtues amongst volunteers, the construction of 26 training centres for them, a newly drafter law named ‘On volunteers’, new methodological approaches to future work with volunteers and new informational platforms for volunteering. There were changes in the attitude towards volunteering, their social status, volunteering gained recognition and popularity after the Games. It stated that the volunteers’ communication with participants of the Paralympic Games tore down negative stereotypes in the perception of people with disabilities.
However, there are papers that claim that the testimonials of the real volunteers at the Sochi Olympics were not overly positive. There were mentions of having to strictly follow orders from ‘the top’ without justification and some of them being in conflict with the free will aspect of volunteer work as well as indications to the non-effectivity of the legal base for volunteers. There was an uneven inclusion of various social groups, young students and senior volunteers were prioritised and the adult population seemed to be excluded. While the information platforms and training centres were constructed, they were mainly focused on event volunteering, rather than evenly promoting all forms of volunteering.
Based on the theory of the benefits that event volunteering brings to the organisers and the participants, as well as the wider society, but also based on the selected case studies above, it can be concluded that volunteering has played a substantial role in major sporting events since its development to today’s form. No organisation or organising committee of any sporting event considers the realisation and development of a mega event without the fundamental participation of volunteers. Yet, the volunteering legacy that is promised by the organising committees of mega events does not always live up to its expectations.