Perks for volunteers

Facing a shortfall of volunteers for the Athens 2004 Olympics, the government and Athens 2004, the Games organizers, have decided to forgo appeals to civic-mindedness and cater to Greeks’ baser instincts by promising 10 extra days of paid vacation and «skill-acquisition certificates» to those willing to enlist for unpaid work during the Games. «Employees and employers have agreed on an impressive measure,» Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos told reporters yesterday, following a meeting of the interministerial committee overseeing preparations for the Olympics. He said the incentive applied both to public and private sector employees. Athens 2004 estimates it will need some 45,000 volunteers for the Olympic Games, to be held in August 2004, and another 15,000 for the Paralympics, to be staged a month later. It has also said it needs about 150,000 applications in order to find qualified people. The volunteers are considered essential in facilitating the movements of some 20,000 journalists, as many athletes and officials and an estimated 7 million spectators. Yesterday, Athens 2004 officials said that 21,747 individuals had volunteered to work at the Games so far, and about 800 civic groups and NGOs around the world had agreed to provide volunteers. The success of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics was attributed to a large extent to the presence of enthusiastic volunteers who had needed no material incentives to provide their services. Greece’s tradition of voluntary work is somewhat thin. The media have done their best to exacerbate already existing cynicism about any such contribution by portraying those working in a professional capacity on Olympics preparations – mostly in Athens 2004 – as undeserving beneficiaries of cronyism who receive fat pay checks. Athens 2004 spokesman Seraphim Kotrotsos said the certificates would be a «moral» incentive, but added that volunteers could use them in their resumes. Venizelos added that in no way would these certificates provide bonus points to people wishing to enter the civil service. According to a report in yesterday’s To Vima newspaper, Athens 2004 had wanted these certificates to be recognized as proof of vocational training by the public sector. Deputies of all parties favored the idea, but Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis was opposed.

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