People Hesitant to Volunteer for Olympics

With 2 years to go before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, one of the main challenges organizers face is recruiting thousands of people to work -- for free. Many Japanese don't seem eager to volunteer.

"We want volunteers to help make these Olympics a success," says Tsutomu Ushioda, Tokyo Olympic & Paralympic organizer. Organizers are marketing it as an opportunity of a lifetime. But if Twitter is any indication, people don't seem to agree.

"Let's boycott the Games. The committee doesn't even want to pay transportation costs for the volunteers."

"Stop asking for everything from volunteers. It's a rip off." "What kind of company says they won't pay and think we'll be satisfied?" say some of the tweets on the subject.

Every Olympics requires a legion of volunteers in a wide variety of roles that range from logistics and operations to crowd control. They're expected to work long hours and even cover their own housing and transportation costs. It's something critics say is an unfair burden on people who aren't being paid.

Over the past 3 years, NHK has surveyed people about whether they plan to volunteer. Even as the Games near closer, the number willing to commit remains low.

But one expert thinks the lackluster response isn't because people don't want to take part -- it's because Japanese aren't familiar with the act of volunteering. "I think such extreme negative reactions come from misunderstanding or misperception of the word 'volunteer,'" says Daito Bunka University Associate Professor Yasuko Kudo.

Kudo says Tokyo organizers need to better explain the important role volunteers play in ensuring the Games are successful. She says they can learn from the 2012 London Olympics. Instead of being called volunteers, they had a more prominent title. "Renaming them 'Games Makers' really represents the spirit of how the organizers saw them. They were the people who brought the London Games together. They put a lot of thought into their identity," says Kudo. Kudo says Japanese companies and schools also need to do more to encourage their employees and students to get involved.

One school is leading the charge. It's moved its exam schedule so students can take part, and starting this fall, it's offering a new program on volunteerism. "We want our students to take advantage of this rare opportunity. We think it will help them in life after college," says Hideaki Yamashita, Vice President of Tokyo Metropolitan University.

It's a move that's being welcomed by students. "Olympics are a big event, so I'm going to try and volunteer." "It's great that they're changing the schedule so that those who want to volunteer can definitely do it," they say.

The application window for volunteers opens this September. The goal is to recruit more than 100,000 volunteers. But organizers have a ways to go to convince people that taking part is an opportunity they don't want to miss out on.