x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Media ban is Bolt from the blue for London Olympics volunteers

Working conditions being imposed on London Olympic volunteers belies the spirit of the games.

Imagine the scenario. You are one of the 70,000 or so volunteers who's agreed to sacrifice their summer for an unpaid job at the London Olympics. While undergoing your chores in the Olympic Village, Usain Bolt saunters on by. Keen to share this prized sighting with your pals, you reach for your smartphone, take a few photos and then post news of this serendipitous encounter on your Twitter account.

Except, this won't be happening, unless you want to be unceremoniously dismissed. Last week, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) effectively banned volunteers - or Games Makers as they've been named - from this kind of social networking.

Under the "what to do and what not to do" section of its website, Locog tells its recruits that they are forbidden from divulging details of their jobs via: "text, audio or visually."

It goes on to state that, during the 15 days of Olympic competition, they will be banned from discussing the exact nature of their roles, and must not reveal details about athletes they spy, nor post any photos of these VIPs.

This announcement must be disconcerting to unpaid helpers, especially as almost everyone else associated with the Games has readily taken up the social media gauntlet.

So you'll find @LondonOlympics; @Olympics (the official International Olympic Committee feed); @Team GB (the British Olympic Association) and a myriad of sportspeople in all disciplines, divulging details about their day-to-day activities.

Locog's strict stage management of its Games Makers is clearly based on concerns that an unfettered stream of unauthorised info could lead to some embarrassing revelations.

But also, on a wider level, the organisers are acutely aware of how much the UK has riding on the Olympics. With their gloomy economy and penny-pinching austerity measures, the powers-that-be are counting on the Games to both cheer up the populace and generate a copious amount of corporate and tourist cash. Keeping any behind the scenes scandal out of the public domain is an essential part of this.

With an election campaign looming this year, London mayor Boris Johnson has a vested interest in the success of the event. Hence, he recently penned a damning denouncement of the naysayers who predicted that the 2012 Games would be a catastrophic failure. Writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, he claimed all should look to the lesson from the last time his city hosted them, back in 1948.

Back then, the bankrupt UK and its bomb-razed capital were in a sorrier state than now. Yet, according to Johnson, in spite of all these hardships, the Austerity Games were a huge success. He contends that the Brits displayed the indomitable spirit that had got them through the Second World War and managed to put on a spectacular show. Or, as one organiser triumphantly declared after the closing ceremony: "The dismal johnnies who prophesied failure have been put to rout."

In 2012, there are plenty of "dismal johnnies" who augur ruin at this year's sporting show, with fears over terrorist attacks or a repeat of last year's widespread civil unrest both being repeatedly predicted. Yet, the biggest source of discontent seems to be over the project's spiralling budget - around £9.3 billion (Dh52.7 billion) at present estimates.

Of course, Locog must realise that a crack team of motivated volunteers who are prepared to do the hard slog without complaining will be essential to the smooth running of the Olympics.

Yet if Locog keeps piling draconian conditions on the Games Makers, it will only promote a sense of despondency and lead to many going about their chores in a dispirited manner. Either that, or they'll attempt to surpass Usain Bolt's records as they rush headlong away from the Olympic Village.