2004 volunteers to be ‘selfless’

Organizers of the Athens 2004 Olympics and the government yesterday reacted angrily to a newspaper report claiming that the government was considering offering employment incentives to volunteer workers for the Games, a move that could be seen as an effort to gain political support. The Eleftherotypia newspaper reported yesterday that Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who is responsible for the Olympics, suggested to Prime Minister Costas Simitis last Wednesday that unemployed people who volunteer for the Olympics be given points that could count in their favor when they applied for civil service jobs. Simitis, the paper said, rejected «such an extreme and obvious vote-gathering measure that would have raised a storm of protest.» The paper also claimed, however, that measures such as offering current civil servants more vacation days and pay were not ruled out as incentives for volunteers. Offering leave to army conscripts – or deferring the service of those who had not yet reported for military training – was also considered, the paper said. «The report on the so-called government plans to exploit volunteerism… is completely groundless and inaccurate,» Venizelos insisted. «The government sees volunteerism as an issue for society, an issue that belongs to Greek society,» he said, adding that «volunteerism is the most crucial program of the 2004 Olympics.» Athens 2004 organizers released a statement saying that interest from the public was great and that 15,000 people had already volunteered since application forms were handed out in February. «This means that Athens 2004’s volunteer program is ahead of even that of the (2000) Sydney Olympics in terms of time and quality,» it said. «Olympic Volunteerism concerns only the unselfish and enthusiastic offer by citizens to take part in the Olympic Games,» the statement said.