It’s funny where life takes you and the experiences you find yourself having.
As someone who has grown up as obsessed with sport more so than perhaps any normal human should, I had always longed to experience a major multi-sport event that makes me glued to the TV for multiple weeks at a time. You know, Olympics, Commonwealth Games, those sorts of ones. And for my entire life I was yet to experience such an event, despite me being fairly lucky to have had both an Olympics and Commonwealth Games in my own country in the last 18 years. Well, luckily enough, my desire to experience an event on that scale finally was fulfilled, and in a way that I could only dare to imagine. Not only did I get to witness the Commonwealth Games in person, I lived them. In so many ways. So so many ways. And what an experience it was.
You see, rather than simply being a spectator, I was lucky enough to be an employee of the games. Someone who actually got paid to work for the glorious celebration of Commonwealth athletes across 12 days of competition that would be witnessed by billions of people around the world. In what capacity? Well would it be anything else but something to do with press? You know the answer to that. Of course it was in the press field. To be specific I was a mixed zone group leader. Which although it perhaps sounds like I get to declare my own mini-kingdom across the Gold Coast and boss people around, simply saw me being in charge of a small area of press to ensure that the media were able to access athletes once they finished competing. It was the very first time I was on ‘the other side’ of the fence so to speak, and it was also the very first chance I got to experience the wonderful sport of boxing. Yes, that sport where they hit each other a lot with giant gloves. A sport that I never really took too much attention with but one that I’ve come out with a new found respect for. But more on that later.
The whole experience of being employed by the games was actually a fairly lengthy one. My first interview was way back in December 2016 and my confirmation of employment wasn’t until about the middle of 2017. Through a couple of orientations and then a few weeks of training, my role officially started on the very first day of competition. That’s right; I was thrown right into the ring with my own gloves and ready to box away the competition and knockout the role right through the entire length of the games. And I have to say I went in fairly relaxed considering it was the very first time I had done a role like it. And despite the long, long, long hours, I also felt a sense of passion for the role which I knew would only last as long as there were medals to give out and a schedule to fulfil. I was ready, and it all came about incredibly quick.
To me the hardest and most interesting part I found was actually being a manager. Someone who had people working for me and someone who had to dictate what people did, how they did it and making sure they did it properly. Now I’m not saying I don’t enjoy having a level of power that I can do that, of course I do. I’m human; it’s desirable to most of our species to have a sense of power. But I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t a human with power who got too much and ended up being a dick. Because who wants to be a dick? Actually, don’t answer that because I know there is more to that question than there should be. But my point being, the possibility of being a phallic object to a group of strangers in no way appealed to me so I did my best to ensure I kept away from that and I like to think I succeeded. That also came down to the fact I had the most amazing group of volunteers to work for me who made the experience incredibly enjoyable and one that wasn’t as stressful as initially planned. And now I have a taste of that, perhaps it’ll be one that I continue to seek out?
Outside of the volunteers, dealing with the boxers themselves was always an interesting experience. For the most part they were a pleasure to deal with. They were extremely humble and happy to speak to the media which made it a breeze to work with. And the emotion form some of these people too was just incredible to witness, especially given they would still happily speak to the press despite for some having their entire dreams shattered in less time than it takes for a pizza to arrive at your house. Case in point witnessing a Zambian boxer collapse to his knees in front of me in tears after losing his bout, and then being forced by a particularly difficult journalist (whose country I shall withhold from this post) who wished to interview him. And what made it even more difficult was that the boxer’s trainers were forcing him to talk too. I was also witness to several athletes just walking right through in tears after losing before emerging later to face the press, still with red eyes and clearly not in a state to do interviews. A fact I respected that they could face the music after such disappointment.
Outside of the disappointment there was of course anger. In such an aggressive sport I honestly thought there would be more but two key incidents stood out. One boxer had lost in quite a contentious decision (to an Australian too, a common theme) and after jumping in on the TV interview on the other side of my area he proceeded to be interviewed by the other press and only responded in swear words and discontent at the decision before storming off, never to be seen again. Another incident involved a fairly relaxed crew shadowing their boxer and walking past me before a sudden bang was heard and I was soon covered in water. Before I realised what had happened there were parts of shattered spray bottle flying around my head and people staring at me wondering if I was OK. The fact that the trainer from Papua New Guinea had angrily slammed his bottle right in front of me causing it to shatter everywhere had barely registered, but I got a free shower and slight heart attack all at the same time.
There was also an interesting moment with a journalist from a very prominent Australian news agency who tried to ‘mark his territory’ with some of the games news service people, but that is a story for another time and place. Safe to say however that the news agency in question definitely soured it’s reputation in my eyes based on that incident.
Other experiences of note were the interactions with several of the support crew and other members in the arena. The Indian trainers were great fun, and constantly traded pins with me as well as other small items which I’ll treasure forever. Dealing with my second home of Canada and their great doctor who I managed to score his hat off after the competition had finished. Several of the technical officials who gave a great insight into their careers and their touring of the circuit and always brought new stories to each session.
Working with the great flash quote reporters and helping several of them go from nervous wrecks in asking questions to being future journalists all in the space of 11 days. I even had one lady who was a school principal, struggled from the beginning to even get any form of quote out of any athlete and then turn into this amazing interviewer say to me it was the most difficult thing she had done in her entire life. Such an incredible transformation from an incredible lady and just one of many stories that will remain with me for the rest of my life.
Outside of work, I was also lucky enough to be able to watch some other sports, including squash, table tennis, badminton and hockey and I even lucked into a ticket to the closing ceremony. And yes, before you say it, it was a pretty rubbish ceremony but getting to experience it was incredible and that automatically makes it better to me. I’ll just ignore the trashy concert at the end and take my memories away so don’t judge me.
Now it’s a matter of taking this new found experience and hope to remain on ‘the circuit’ and strive to future Commonwealth Games and even more so towards the dream of an Olympics. Can it happen? Who knows. But given I think back to 13 year old Ben watching the Sydney 2000 Olympics wishing I was there, and followed that up with 19 year old Ben watching the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games wishing I was there, perhaps it’s time to keep looking forward and rather than wishing continuing to work towards making those wishes come true.
One thing is for certain, for 12 days in April 2018 they certainly did.