GC2018. The event that had to be seen
Football Today contributor, Sally Freedman, shares her experience as a spectator services manager at the Commonwealth Games22 April 2018 | Sally Freedman
The XXI Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018 will stay with me forever.
After rejecting a job offer to work at the Games in 2016, I found myself back in Queensland in 2017 and decided to take another look.
In May 2017, it was time to say goodbye to football and marketing, and hello to the Commonwealth Games and spectator services. My Australian adventure started in 2007 in the Gold Coast as a scholarship recipient at Griffith University, so it felt like it was meant to be as I came full circle, ten years later back to where it all began.
Day one at GC2018 involved a couple of memorable meetings; the first being about the Opening Ceremony. I walked into a room with one of the biggest board tables I had ever seen and for more than one hour, the discussion focussed solely on two lines of a run sheet.
Meeting two was with the Aquatic Centre team – around thirty people in a room and an hour’s discussion about the location of a scoreboard with no resolution.
So …. lessons learned: one - welcome to detail on a whole new scale; and two – welcome to numerous precious, passionate stakeholders who were all extremely protective of their own agendas.
Fast forward a few months and I was assigned the Optus Aquatic Centre and Southport Broadwater Parklands. It was time to focus on spectator services across swimming, diving, triathlon and marathon. Challenge accepted.
By March, the spectator services team for the Aquatic Centre and Southport Broadwater Parklands grew from me, myself and I to 18 staff and over 400 volunteers.
I’ll never forget the first day all the Supervisors came to site. "Sally, Sally, Sally, Sally" – their enthusiasm was admirable with so many insightful questions. It was time to throw the laptop away (not literally), stop the planning, forget the emails and dedicate my attention to people management, communication, leadership, operations and delivery.
Before we knew it, day one, 5 April 2018 was here and it was time to welcome 12,500 spectators into the venue for swimming and triathlon and the first gold medal of the Games.
What could go wrong?! Gates were scheduled to open at 8am with 18 security lanes, but of course that would be smooth sailing. Let’s just say we opened 15 minutes late with a limited number of lanes and when the all call came through to open gates, time felt like it stood still for an eternity.
As I looked through the screening tents, all I could see were people - a never-ending sea of people. People to the left, people to the right, people in the middle. People everywhere with queues longer than my eyes could see.
And there were times where I thought the queues were never going to end.
I don’t really remember much about the next couple of hours, but before I knew it I glanced at my watch and it read 10:37am. There were just a handful of spectators entering the venue, with the majority inside enjoying swimming or triathlon. First mission of the day accomplished. And breathe.
Next mission, the swimming competition was over and it was time to get 10,000 people out of the venue safely. Cue rain. And not just a little rain. Cue a torrential downpour. The smooth egress we were hoping for turned into some kind of organised chaos as 10,000 drowned rats tried to seek any kind of non-existent shelter they could find.
Some 18 hours later, day one was over. Two swimming sessions and one triathlon session were complete.
Surely, it could only get easier from here? With each session, operations became calmer as staff and spectators became increasingly familiar with their surroundings. As we progressed to day seven and the start of diving, operations ran like clockwork.
The time flew by and before we knew it, the last day of the Games arrived; just one more marathon shift to go. Marathon day meant a spritely 1.30am start as we welcomed 2,000 spectators and 6,600 Gold runners to the venue.
The Gold runners took centre stage as they ran 5km on the marathon course and created history as they participated in the first ever community fun run of its kind.
Fast forward to 1.30pm on day 11 and it was all over; all spectators were off site; the venue was cleared for the very last time.
Remember …. it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
There were so many highs and a few lows and despite nearly tearing my hair out a few times, the memories will stay with me forever.
From the volunteer that took a radio home and radioed in from Ashmore … "I have this phone thingy on my waist…..over….do I need to bring it back?……over, I’m in Ashmore…..over"…. to opening the gates at 4.40am on Marathon day to welcome a grand total of … wait for it ……… one spectator in (the crowds came later).
To the morning when heaven meant hiding for five minutes in an air conditioned first aid tent and drinking copious amounts of ice cold water to bring me back to the land of the living. To the time I thought headstands against signage was a fabulous idea.
To the very angry spectator that threatened to pour water all over me as she was so outraged that she couldn’t bring it into the venue, and not forgetting the furious spectator that nearly burst my ear drum as they yelled and yelled at me as they were certain I was breaking the law (yes, me personally) as the audio in the stands was too loud. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?!
To the incredible enthusiasm and passion shown by the volunteers including the very special 93-year-old, Donald (pictured with me).
To the giving of pins and foam hands that brought such unanimous joy.
To the dream venue team and the finest spectator services team, to the beautiful Borobi scrap book presented to me from supervisors that brought me to tears- thank you GC2018 for the memories.
I feel very proud to have played a tiny part in a huge jigsaw puzzle that made the GC2018 Games great.