Paris (AFP) – The volunteer recruitment campaign for the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games has been a resounding success. More than 300,000 people have applied to do their bit, according to the organising committee. FRANCE 24 spoke to five aspiring volunteers looking to make their mark at Paris 2024.
Thousands of people from all over Europe have signed up to volunteer at Paris 2024 in a bid to play their part in France’s first Games in a century.
“Behind every great champion, there is a volunteer,” says Tony Estanguet, president of the Paris 2024 Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Addressing would-be volunteers on the official Olympics website, he thanks the hopefuls for “their enthusiasm, energy and uniqueness”, adding that “they will play a key role in the success of the Paris 2024 Games, helping to make them an unforgettable event”.
More than 300,000 people have answered his call – nearly seven times the 45,000 the organising committee will ultimately select.
From welcoming and directing spectators to leading sports delegations to competition venues and providing medical assistance, they will have their work cut out.
‘It’s my turn to give back’
“It might sound a bit pompous, but I really want to make France shine at the Olympics,” says Fabien, 49. “I’d like to take advantage of this huge sporting event to try and make people happy, particularly by making them laugh, as I do on stage.”
The Paris-born comedian, who spent twenty years travelling the world as a Nike employee, was made redundant and turned his attention to comedy. “In my previous job, I loved seeing customers arrive unhappy and leave with a smile. I hope to be able to do the same with the visitors and athletes I meet.”
Fabien sees similarities between the worlds of sport and entertainment. “I guess an athlete feels a bit like a comedian before going on stage: they might appreciate being relaxed with a few jokes.”
If they are looking for a little peace, Fabien says he knows how to keep quiet too.
The comedian intends to dedicate what are ordinarily quiet summer weeks in the comedy scene to giving back to his home country. “During my many travels, I’ve noticed that we’re well-off in France. So it’s my turn to give back what my country has given me by volunteering.”
Fabien views volunteering as a worthy cause. “This kind of sporting extravaganza offers some respite from all the misery in the world – a breath of fresh air when nations come together.”
If his bid fails, Fabien, an optimist by nature, feels he will be fine.
“I’ll be in Paris anyway, and I’ll take part in the event in another way by talking to people in the street and trying to make them smile because that’s my raison de vivre.”
With his partner, he also plans to offer the vacant rooms in his apartment to those who can’t afford to pay large sums of money for accommodation. It’s an opportunity to meet new people, he says.
Whether his application is successful or not, Fabien will “take part in the party, because it’s the experience of a lifetime!”
‘I didn’t hesitate for a moment’
Whether it’s running, trail running, tennis or football – which he played semi-professionally – Antoine, 29, never misses a sporting event.
To give himself the best chance of success, he submitted his application as soon as the website portal opened. “Attending the Olympic Games this close to home only happens once in a lifetime. It’s such an opportunity, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I jumped at the chance,” he says.
Originally from the Grand Est region of France, Antoine now lives in Luxembourg, where he works as a nurse anaesthetist. “I’d love to help athletes, to use my medical knowledge while immersing myself in the world of sport that I love so much,” he says. “If I can use my skills to nourish my passion for sport, that would be ideal.”
Antoine isn’t bothered by the lack of pay for volunteers. “I understand there are different points of view, but I’ve always been a volunteer in sports and I think it’s natural to get involved because it’s really a passion for me. As for getting paid, that’s what my job is for.”
Volunteering runs in Antoine’s blood. Every year he volunteers with the Trail des Tranchées, a trail run organised by his father that traces historic sites around the French town of Verdun.
It’s little surprise, then, that Antoine’s father and partner have also applied to volunteer. “It would be nice if all three of us are chosen,” says Antoine, adding that if he is not, it is “not a big deal … it will be because others had better applications than me, that’s just the way it works!”
‘I’m convinced I’ll be taken on, it’s bound to happen’
Ever since she started climbing at the age of eight, Jade has dreamed of winning Olympic gold.
Today, despite climbing becoming an Olympic sport at the Tokyo 2021 Games, the 20-year-old’s dreams of the podium have faded. But her desire to take part in the Games still burns strong. “I’d love to be at the heart of the Olympic Games, immersed for several weeks in the festive world of sport! And maybe even meet my idols, like [French climbers] Bassa and Mickael Mawem, or Adam Ondra from the Czech Republic. That would be awesome,” says Jade.
To make her dream come true, the third-year student, who works part-time as a construction designer in Avignon, has covered her bases. For accommodation, she’ll stay with the sister of a friend. In the volunteer recruitment questionnaire, she made the most of her chances. Not out of opportunism or strategy, she says, but just a desire to do it all.
“Guiding visitors, accompanying athletes, I ticked every box on the form because I’m interested in everything.”
Jade knows volunteering at the Olympics will be financially difficult. “If I’m taken on, I certainly won’t be able to work all summer like I normally do. It’s not going to be easy.”
However, Jade feels the benefits of meeting other volunteers, making friends with visitors from all over the world, enjoying Paris, and going out are well worth the financial sacrifices. “At the Olympics, I hope to find the values I appreciate so much in the world of climbing, such as generosity and kindness.”
Jade says she’d rather not think about what happens if she is not accepted. “I’ve let my imagination run so far ahead … I’m convinced I’ll be taken on, it’s bound to happen.”
‘I’ll be paid handsomely in humanity’
By day, Aude works in an occupational health department in Yvelines, a district west of Paris. By night, she works in a hospital ward. So when asked if she’s worried about fatigue during the weeks of voluntary work, the young 30-something smirks.
Aude, whose gentle demeanor and calm voice seem tailor-made for reassuring patients in emergencies, knows how to deal with exhaustion and chaos. “In my job, I’m used to the unexpected. Sometimes you expect quiet nights and then you have two heart attacks to deal with; it is part of the job. You adapt.”
Aude wants to be recruited as a volunteer on a medical team. “It would be really interesting work that would make a change from my daily life,” she says.
What’s more, she hasn’t ruled out working as an events nurse in the future. “The Olympic Games could open up new career prospects for me.”
Applying to volunteer at the Olympics is above all a testament to Aude’s love of sport. “I’ve been a break dancer for a long time and I’m very happy to see this discipline enter a competition as prestigious as the Olympic Games,” she says.
With a husband who works and a three-year-old daughter, she knows that volunteering at the Games will be difficult to manage. Aude is even considering forgoing her family vacation. But she doesn’t see it as a sacrifice. Volunteering at the Olympics “will be such an enriching experience. I’ll be paid handsomely in humanity. I can’t wait for 2024!”
‘It would be a real honour’
This time round, Dan is counting on being selected as a volunteer. He doesn’t want to suffer the same fate he did in 2020, when his application for the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland was rejected.
Dan, a student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, wants to capitalise on his proficiency in multiple languages. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to help build a stadium … But I’d love to be able to accompany athletes or help out with my technological knowledge,” Dan says shyly. “It would be a real honour.”
It’s the festive spirit of the Games, rather than the sport, that inspired Dan to sign up.
“When I heard that French artist Woodkid would produce the official anthem for the Olympic Games, it made me want to participate even more,” says Dan. “Besides, I’ve always dreamed of seeing a real opening or closing ceremony for an event of this magnitude. We don’t get paid, but being able to take part is priceless.”
Dan is so excited by the Games, he even convinced his mother to apply. His father, who is more reticent, declined. “With all the violent protests we’ve seen in the media in Paris – riots, the pictures of chaos – the city scares him, as it does many people,” says Dan. “But not me; I’m still confident.”
If he’s not picked for a second time, Dan says he’ll be disappointed. “I’ll watch the event on TV in Switzerland. I’ll still appreciate the beautiful spirit of the Games, where social barriers fade away.”