Although I’ve said (repeatedly) that I won’t believe that I’m actually going to Russia to volunteer for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games until I’m actually there, I’m a few big steps closer to accepting it. And knowing that the Olympic Flame has just been lit in Greece and is currently on its way to Russia makes it seem just around the corner.
Earlier this week, I finally received my ‘confirmed’ volunteer dates and venue assignment. From February 6 through 24, 2014, I will be a Flash Quote Reporter for the Olympic News Service at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, venue for men’s ice hockey.
Happy dance! I lobbied hard for ice hockey (well, if lobbying equals ‘marking it as my first choice on the application form’ and making a ‘well, I’m Canadian so I know hockey’ joke during my seven-minute Skype interview with the good folks in Sochi…) and I’m very excited/freaked out.
There’s still much to do and wrap my head around. How do I pack for a Winter Games in a region that’s actually known for being a subtropical beach resort? What if my visa doesn’t get processed in time? How will I handle living in the volunteer village with up to three roommates, likely all very young and very Russian? Will the Sochi Starbucks be open in time for the Games? Not sure about those questions, but here are a few that I can answer:
You’ve worked at two Olympic Games before — why volunteer for this one?
When I originally filled out the extensive Sochi volunteer application way back in 2012, I thought it would be a fall-back option, just in case I didn’t secure a paid role or if I had issues getting a work visa. But even before I knew I’d been selected as a volunteer (according to some reports, 160,000 applications were received; 29,000 made the cut), I realized that volunteering would be my preferred way to experience the Games. After working on Vancouver 2010 for many years, that final six weeks in my two venues was an uninterrupted string of 18+ hour days, during which I lost 30 pounds and nearly collapsed from exhaustion. Not saying it wasn’t a great experience, but I never had the opportunity to see a single competition event, and no days off. As a volunteer, I have 8-hour shifts and actual days off; and, if the web rumours are to be believed, access to watch other events outside my own assigned venue on those days off. As a volunteer, I can contribute some useful skills and Olympic knowledge, but the full responsibility of making sure things go right isn’t on my shoulders. Less stress, more fun.
What does a Flash Quote Reporter actually do?
Flash Quote Reporters are part of the Olympic News Service team, itself part of Press Operations. Their role is to interview the athletes (and often coaches, for team sports) and gather quotes at press conferences and in the mixed zone, an area just outside of the field of play that every athlete must pass through after competing.
The Olympic News Service (ONS) functions as an impartial quasi-news agency, covering athletes from all countries and providing information and quotes through a system called Info+. Accredited media are then able to use this information in their own reporting.
Imagine you’re a journalist from a country like Belarus. Remember when the Belarus hockey team surprised the shit out of everyone during the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games by defeating Sweden and placing fourth? What if the Belarus journalists were all over at the ski jumping venue that day covering Aleksei Grishin’s bronze medal win, and couldn’t get back to the hockey venue in time to cover that story? That’s were the ONS comes in, and the journalists can use the provided quotes to flesh out their own stories.
Despite what some volunteers seem to think, Flash Quote Reporters are not part of the accredited media. We’re there to provide a service to the accredited media.
How will you get around in Russia if you don’t speak Russian?
I’ve been studying Russian using Rosetta Stone since January. I suck at learning languages — I studied French through Grade 11 and can’t remember anything more than ‘Hello, how are you?’ and ‘I would like to go to the bathroom’, and past attempts to learn Italian and Mandarin didn’t take. So far, my Russian vocabulary isn’t bad (e.g. I can point at something and name it), but I’m having a hard time stringing sentences together. And holy crap, figuring out the grammar and cases and tenses is hard.
One of the first emails I received from the Sochi volunteer centre back in January was actually to set up a language test, and I freaked out because my Russian was still extremely rudimentary. Turns out it was my English they wanted to test, as “Knowledge of the English language is one of the key components of our success”. So, yeah, got that covered.
But aren’t we supposed to be boycotting the Sochi Games or something? I saw a tweet about a petition and moving them back to Vancouver…
When the news broke about Russia’s “anti-gay propaganda” law, I definitely had a few moments of what-the-fuck-how-can-I-go-to-Sochi-when-I-support-gay-rights? However, I truly feel that boycotting the Games would not make any difference to Russian lawmakers, and would only serve to hurt the athletes who had trained so hard for this moment. And having worked in close proximity to the International Olympic Committee, I know that the only things that might possibly make them consider moving the Games would be the complete insistence of all of the top-tier sponsors and the major rights-holding broadcasters. And there ain’t no way Coca-Cola and McDonald’s and NBC are making a move on this one.
And don’t get me started on the impracticalities of moving the Games back to Vancouver. (Actually, I do love to rant about that, but it’s best done in person, over drinks. I make a lot of hand gestures when I talk about this.)
So my stance is that the least-objectionable-alternative given the circumstances is to shine more light on the situation. The media should go to Sochi and cover the Games but also report on these laws and their impact on the LGBT community.
The Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games take place February 7 through 23, with the Paralympic Games following from March 7 through 16. I’ll continue to post updates on my road to Sochi. Got questions? Post them in the comments.