Deficiencies in World Championships Athletes' Village surprised volunteers
Towels and toilet paper missing from athletes' rooms
By Leena Lepistö
The problems at the Athletes' Village of the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Espoo's Otaniemi district came as a surprise to Pekka Jarvansalo, who worked as the volunteer host of the village.
Some of the situations Jarvansalo faced were so incredible that it made him wonder which country was actually staging the championships.
"Some of the athletes arrived in the village late in the evening and found their rooms unprepared. The beds and other items were still wrapped up", Jarvansalo recounts the events.
"Or then the toilet paper or towels were missing. We had to start thinking about sleeping arrangements late at night. Some people had to spend the first night in one room, and then move to another place the next day."
It had been emphasised at the volunteers' training sessions that they should never say no, but always try to accommodate all situations.
"Following that guideline turned out to be impossible, because after you asked the accommodations office or other superiors one time, you were able to say no immediately the next time. There were too many things we could not provide, and even those things that we could, for example night-lights and extra sheets, were very hard to come by."
At first, the hosts had received false information on which houses contained the laundry facilities. Once the laundry rooms had been located, it became evident that sometimes the athletes needed to wait a couple of days for a laundry session.
"Once the washing was done, the next problem emerged: where to dry the clothes. We arranged for the athletes to get plastic wire and clothes-pegs, and they set up drying lines in their rooms."
The most dramatic moment for Jarvansalo, who worked in house number seven, came in an incident caused by smoke detectors.
The fire alarms had been installed next to the doors of the bathrooms, and they sometimes reacted to the steam from hot showers.
"Saudis and Qatari do not know what such a contraption is and why it is beeping. Naturally they tried to take the alarms down and silence them. No one told them why there is an alarm on the ceiling, and what to do if it activates."
"A newspaper called Village News was published in the athletes' village every day, but it was not until the fifth or sixth day that there was a mention that the smoke detectors are required by Finnish law, and that it is not permissible to tamper with them. Notices in many languages were put up on the walls saying that if the alarms are touched, the police will be notified and there may be a sanction of losing one's competition permit", Jarvansalo recalls.
According to Jarvansalo, the chief of security at the athletes' village came to ask him which rooms had disconnected fire alarms.
"A moment later I heard a terrible ruckus from upstairs when the security chief entered the room of a member of the Qatari team. The smoke detector in the room had either fallen or been taken down without thinking. A moment after the security chief had left, the Qatari man came down, nearly trembling and wondering what kind of criminal he supposedly was, and what he was supposed to have done. The man was terrified, and he was not the only one."
The volunteers received three days of training for their jobs, but they were only given information on general issues at the time.
"Shift managers gave us directions, but soon the accommodations office gave us new guidelines. In the end we did not know which system to follow. We were not trained in the practical aspects of the job."
According to Jarvansalo, there was not one meeting during the games where problems could have been discussed. The only recourse was to file a report for the next person to take over the watch. "That did not work so well either, because the rules changed all the time."
"I was surprised by the ascetic conditions the athletes lived in. I do not recall if I have seen windows as dirty anywhere else. There were too many items that drew my attention. I have spoken with other people who worked in the same building, and their experiences are similar. Money would not have been the key to correcting things, but information and training."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 25.8.2005
More on this subject:
Head of Athletes' Village: "The athletes are satisfied"
Previously in HS International Edition:
IAAF World Championships end on a drier note, but the Olympic Stadium comes up short (15.8.2005)