Realising the value of volunteers
Although the Paris 2020 European Athletics Championships were cancelled because of the health crisis, their “Volontaire Européen Citoyen Actif” VECA scheme for volunteers is continuing. This project aiming to build a bridge between sport volunteering and civic commitment is backed by the European Union, and Sport and Citizenship is a partner.
The 2020 European Athletics Championships were due to be held in Paris from 25th to 30th August, bringing together more than 1,400 volunteers from all over Europe. Because of Covid19, the event was cancelled at the end of April. This decision did not, however, mean the end of the VECA action programme run by the Organising Committee with the aim of creating, directing and giving value to the community of volunteers brought in for the event. “When it became necessary to cancel, all the volunteers had already been recruited. A real community had been created. We therefore decided that it would be a good idea to continue with the programme of activities,” said Jean Gracia, President of Paris Athlé 2020.
With the support of the EU’s Erasmus+ Sport programme, VECA was conceived as a real journey for volunteers. Exchanges were arranged so that volunteers could share their experiences. There were information sessions and activities on the subject of European citizenship. More than 450 volunteers took part in an e-Young Leaders Forum, an event which united the future managers of world athletics. A gathering of volunteers, conferences, a virtual tour of European institutions and a trip to Brussels completed the list of activities on offer.
“Acting together and being together”
“As well as these highlights, we worked on making it easier for our volunteers to get in touch with other associations so that they could remain active and committed in the voluntary sector”, added Jean Gracia. More than 72% of them expressed a wish to use their time and their talents for the common good in the future. “Taking part in the VECA project came from a desire to be useful. Sporting events would be unable to take place without volunteers. I wanted to help and also to feel that I was part of a community. It was this idea of acting together and being together that motivated me”, said Vivian Kramer from the Netherlands. A lasting investment – one of the ambitions of the project. Sport and Citizenship is currently carrying out an impact measurement to find out what motivates volunteers and how they see European citizenship. The results will be out in the spring of 2021.
“In this period with the pandemic, when it is easy to turn in on oneself, it is a good idea to come together around a common project and to remember that we are part of a bigger community”, Martin, an 18-year-old French volunteer, says. “With the health crisis, a lot if people have asked themselves what they are doing. This gives meaning to commitment and it should be recognised. That is what we have tried to do, by involving the volunteers at every stage of our project”, explains Jean Gracia.
Paris 2020 was conceived as an inclusive, participatory, popular event; unfortunately, it was impossible to attain all of its legacy objectives. On the volunteering front, however, organising a community of active volunteers represents an experience with many lessons for future international sporting events.