David McGillivray

Professor, interested in events, culture, digital participation & sport.


Event volunteering and representation: Delhi2010 Flag Handover

I’m currently working on a piece of research with Professor Gayle McPherson on the volunteering experience of the 2010 Delhi Flag Handover Ceremony (DFHC) which took place in October 2010.


As Glasgow approaches its major sport event (Glasgow 2014) it’s looking to learn from the unique approach it took to recruiting volunteers for the Mass Cast (of 348 people) which ‘performed Glasgow’ during the closing ceremony of the Delhi Commonwealth Games.  In terms of media coverage, both home and abroad, the DFHC was a great success but we are looking beyond the ‘performance’ to consider what can be learned from the way volunteers were recruited, managed and nurtured beyond the event.  Here are a few early thoughts on what is coming out as one of the key outcomes of the research – the interlinked issues of ‘representation’ and ‘identity’.   

From our enquiries to date, it is clear that representing ‘something’ (a place, a group, a city, a nation) or ‘somebody’ (yourself, a parent, a friend) is a significant motivating factor for those people who were involved in the DFHC.  The fact that participants came from across Scotland (80+ organisations were represented in total, including all 32 local authorities, dance clubs, sports organisations and disability groups).  Moreover, representation appears to be multi-faceted, in the sense that as a participant I might be representing myself, my local community, my host city and my nation.  Whilst there remains a need to unpick the tiers of identity being expressed here, it is clear that for organisers of major sporting and cultural events it is necessary to think carefully about how volunteers can most effectively satisfy this desire to represent whilst they are involved in the event – and in the months and years after the event has passed. Identity is, of course, a contested and complex term and our early findings reinforce this.  Organisers of the DFHC were very clear that they wanted to ensure wider representation than had been seen at any other major sports event, despite the logistical difficulties this was likely to cause.  In the academic study of major events (or mega events), this appears to me to be an example of an attempt to narrow the legitimation gap between citizens and organisers and is to be welcomed for that very reason.  That a resident of Orkney can be involved in an event like this representing his or her local community, dance troupe or sports club is a credit to the vision of the organisers.  Of course, from the perspective of the main funders (e.g. the Scottish Government), the diversity of participants permitted all sections of Scottish society and their associated invested traditions to be showcased, not only through the ceremony itself, but also from the local stories which were generated as a result.  If organisers of the 2014 Games can learn from the successes of the DFHC, understanding the levels of representation which appear to have been evident in the Delhi Flag Handover then the spectacle effect associated with major Games’ ceremonies can be the source of other, more sustainable legacies – including the much sought after social and cultural capital which major events are expected to deliver.  This week I came across an interesting LSE research study into the Olympic Games and their impact on ‘happiness and wellbeing’ – we need more of this sort of work, following participants in a longitudinal manner, not only to assess if the benefits proposed are accrued but also to learn how and why they were achieved.  

I’ll be posting more about the findings of the DFHC volunteer research once it is published in May.  


David McGillivray • April 7, 2011

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