It’s all been a very slow build up. It started somewhere in the mists of time when, entirely on a whim, I sent off an online application to be a volunteer at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. It might have been on the back of the general feel good atmosphere in London after the 2012 Olympics, or it might not have been, I can’t really remember. But when it came to the interview last August, I’m fairly sure I relied quite significantly on that concept in my answers. I was told I was being considered for the Transport team, and I smiled and nodded, not entirely sure that I had applied for that, but happy enough to go along with the process to see what happened next. In that respect it was vaguely reminiscent of my going for interviews with accounting firms in my final year at university, ‘for the experience’ and being recruited into a job which turned into 25 years of a career, while I tried to decide what I really wanted to do; or of my going for a look-see visit to Moscow for a prospective job, as I thought I’d never get such a great opportunity for a trip there. It was only for a weekend, after all……which led to the over two years in the city. So, you see, there’s a bit of a pattern.
Transport, they explained was a very broad category, including people armed with clipboards and hi-vis jackets at bus stations and airports checking people got on the right buses, to those charged with driving cars for dignitaries and others (‘games family’ in the plethora of jargon). There was another mysterious role, of which I wasn’t aware until I was told I was going to be doing it: CGA Assistant. In English, this means Commonwealth Games Association Assistant, and is a person who is directly affiliated with one of the Country teams. It was only when I attended the training days in May and June that I learned that this might or might not include driving, but would definitely involve random administrative and organisational tasks depending on the needs of the Country Team Management. There’s also a uniform to wear: red, white and grey with branding and logos….. I’ve not worn a uniform since I left school, and even then I personalised it beyond the point when it might properly have been described as ‘uniform’.
They kept us waiting to find out the country to which we had been allocated long enough to really ratchet up the sense of anticipation and impatience, so it was only a couple of weeks ago that I learnt that I would be supporting the Mozambique team. At this point I should probably admit that until the moment I read the notification email I didn’t know that Mozambique was a member of the Commonwealth, but since then, I have better educated myself.
I sent an email to the High Commission in London to introduce myself, and was surprised, but very pleased, to be invited to meet one of the diplomats who will be actively involved with the team during the Games. He told me that he understood that the Chef de Mission, (another new phrase that now skips smoothly off my tongue, and means the person in charge of the management of the Country Team) would be arriving in Glasgow this Friday. I had been told to report for my first shift at the Athletes Village on Thursday. It was no surprise then, that when I clocked in for the first time, there was no Mozambique team for me to join yet; and it is interesting how strongly I feel that they are my team already, even though I’ve not met them.
Walking into Helensburgh railway station to board the train into the city I felt unbelievably self-conscious in my bright red uniform, adorned with the glowing Glasgow 2014 logo. I imagined small children staring at me, and adults shaking their heads in disbelief, but by the time I arrived at Dalmarnock station I was part of a crowd. Suddenly, it was compulsory to greet complete strangers because they were wearing the same uniform; the Friendly Games indeed.
It was an incredible thrill to discover that my accreditation pass really did give me instant access to the heart of the Athletes Village. I was one of those people walking about among the flags of the ‘71 nations and territories’ participating in the Games, crossing the freshly laid paths and grass, my ID swinging across my polo shirt, offering cheery ‘hellos’ to athletic young people in shorts. Surreal? This? Ever so slightly.
Everyone is in a uniform of one sort or another; sports gear of varying hues, even on the least athletic frames. Only the police are exempt from the sportsy look, having the foresight to already have a well-recognised uniform of their own. It was the visitors in suits and ties who looked the odd ones out in this little capsule of athletics and training shoes.
Because my team hadn’t arrived yet, B, my new colleague and I spent a little while walking around the Village to familiarise ourselves with the geography, to find the car parks, the portacabin for the Mozambique team office, and to test ourselves on whether we could find our way back to the central office. Bumping into people I had met on the training days, the conversations all went the same way:
‘How are you? Which Country are you?’
‘How big is the team? Have you done any driving? How many CGAAs?’ (we’re all fluent in the acronyms)
And then we nod and wave, because everyone is heading somewhere in a hurry ‘See you again, I’m sure.’
B and I were loaned to Team England for the afternoon, and helped them put greeting cards in some of the rooms for the athletes. Many of the rooms had been decorated with posters made by primary school children in Scotland, and it was a funny coincidence to see that several of them were from children at Hermitage Primary in Helensburgh, the school I went to. I do hope the athletes send them a thank you.
I was very happy to help with the Team England tasks, and although they could not have been more welcoming, I had a curious feeling that they weren’t my team in the way that Mozambique is.
So this morning I am going back and really hope they are safely arrived. I’ve been told to check in at 11, as they may well be jet lagged, to give them time to get up and have their breakfast. A reminder that although this is a huge machine working towards a massive spectacular, it’s all made up of people, many of whom have come a very long way.