Extract from the Times. The road to 2012 

The Road to 2012

Published in the Times Saturday 23 April 2011

The question is unusual: what do you do if you encounter a man wearing a dress looking for a lavatory? The correct answer, if you are an interviewer for the London Olympics volunteer programme, is: say hello and point them in the direction of both the men’s and women’s toilets.

“Do not jump to conclusions. Do not let it influence your judgment of the person. Be aware of your own prejudices or stereotypes,” Neil Lasher, a 53-year-old training company manager, tells a class of interviewers who will help to assess 100,000 candidates for 70,000 volunteer roles at the 2012 Games.

It is an important task. Those selected under the largest peacetime recruitment exercise will be the faces of the nation and organisers want to present a picture of a tolerant and multicultural society. As befits the diversity-embracing London Olympic organising committee, its 71-page training manual contains a section on inclusion covering age, gender, religious, racial and disability discrimination.

A list of language do’s and don’ts advises against using phrases such as “wheelchair bound” (wheelchair user is preferred), “mentally ill” (mental health services user) and “able-bodied” (non-disabled), as well as making personal comments about interviewees. Lasher says this is not about being politically correct but being “culturally aware and respecting individual differences . . . We have to accept everything.”

He is running a one-day training session in North London for 35 people, to which The Times was invited. They will leave his classroom in the corporate university of McDonald’s, an Olympics sponsor that wrote the training materials, for the ExCeL centre in East London to interview prospective volunteers.

Since January about 900 interviewers have been trained, with a further 1,600 required under a feat of manpower logistics not seen since the Second World War. Up to 300 people a day, six days a week, are being interviewed at ExCeL with the process extending to Weymouth, the venue for the Olympic sailing, Salford, Belfast, Glasgow, Coventry and Newcastle.

About 25,000 people have been interviewed under a rolling process to find the people now so integral to the Olympics since Sydney recruited 40,000 to say “g’day” in 2000 and was lauded by the IOC for staging the “best Games ever”. Those chosen range from experts in anti-doping to enthusiastic generalists happy to direct spectators to their seats……

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