C’mon, be a sport: 80,000 volunteers sought for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

The world may currently be caught up in the Rio Olympics, but with only 4 years until the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Japan is preparing for its turn as Olympic host. 

Among these preparations, the Tokyo Olympics Organising Committee has announced that an estimated 80,000 volunteers are required if this monumental international event is to go without a hitch.

In fact, just last month a draft of requirements was released for those hoping to become Olympic volunteers in 2020. According to the Japan Times, volunteers must be aged 18 or over by the 1st of April, 2020, and ought to be able to work 8-hour days for 10 days or more. 

Foreign language skills, knowledge of Olympic sports, and volunteering experience at sporting events were also identified as desirable attributes.

With the same objective in mind, next month, seven Japanese universities specialising in foreign languages will jointly hold a 4-day seminar in Chiba Prefecture. The programme, which was launched last year, is designed to help the expected 400 or so participants improve their translation skills, as well as gain greater knowledge of the Olympics, hospitality skills and foreign cultures.

Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, and Kansai Gaidar University are among the seven universities taking part, the Japan Times reports.

Even so, while some see the Tokyo Olympics Organising Committee’s call for volunteers and volunteer interpreters as a rare opportunity for those who participate, other voices have been more critical.

The key point of contention is that these volunteers will not be paid for their time, and nor will they be compensated for any money they spend on travel or accommodation while volunteering. 

Language Policy Professor, Noriyuki Nishiyama, for example is critical of what he sees as an apparent under-appreciation of the interpreting profession.

“It takes years of effort to gain the mastery of a foreign language to work as an interpreter. It’s not something people can learn in a short period of time,” the Japan Times reports Nishiyama as saying. 

Japan has been pushing English education, saying gaining language proficiency provides huge economic benefits,” Nishiyama continues. “But it doesn’t make sense if such people with foreign language skills are not paid.”

Even so, Tokyo 2020 will not be the first to rely so heavily on a voluntary workforce. 

For Rio 2016, there was a call out for 70,000 volunteers, of whom 8,000 linguistic specialists were needed to be the “voice of the Games.”

In fact an article published on the International Olympic Committee website states that, “volunteers have been integral to the success of the Olympic Games since they were first used during the 1948 Games in London.”

And regardless of ones view on whether the Olympic Games should depend so greatly on the unpaid labour of interpreters and others, going by previous years, the Tokyo Olympics Organising Committee’s goal of filling 70,000 volunteer placements may not be insurmountable.

For London 2012, the IOC article informs us, there were 240,000 applications to fill the 70,000 volunteer places.

Sources include: Japan Timeswww.olympic.orgwww.rio2016.com,


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