'Very lucky': Tokyo 2020's expert volunteers from overseas

Tokyo (AFP) –


In order to volunteer at the Tokyo Olympics, Tsan Wong from Hong Kong and his wife Rever Yau are spending around $5,000 on flights, evening meals, and mandatory hotel quarantine back home.

Under virus rules, the army of overseas volunteers that are usually part of an Olympics has largely been scrapped.

And it is only those with specialist expertise, such as former Commonwealth fencing champion Wong, who have been able to come from abroad to volunteer.

Strict "bubble" rules confined the pair to their hotel and the fencing venue, where Wong managed the warm-up zone and Yau worked as an information coordinator.

"Some fencers and coaches are very tense before the competition. I understand what they are thinking, so I try and help them relax," Wong, 55, told AFP.

Wong is president of Hong Kong Fencing School, where gold medallist Edgar Cheung Ka-long trained as a teenager, though he did not get to see Cheung's winning bout from behind the scenes.

But despite the conditions, and having to take a month off work, Wong has no regrets.

"I really enjoy it here," he said.

"Even though they gave me a rest day, I didn't rest. They have a nine-day competition, and I worked nine days."

Hundreds of keen volunteers had hoped to travel from abroad to work at Tokyo 2020, but most were told they could not attend when overseas spectators were banned in March.

So hockey enthusiast Bruce Danbury, who has helped at many tournaments including previous Olympics, feels "very lucky and very privileged" to be in Tokyo.

Usually, he's part of a big group of British volunteers -- but this time, "it's just me", the 45-year-old told AFP.

- 'Worth going' -

"It's given me so much, so it's great to put a little back into the sport where I can," he said.

"I just look at it as quite an expensive holiday, but working 15 hours a day instead of sitting on a beach."

Danbury's job is technical, looking after pitch irrigation to make sure the playing surface is consistently in top condition.

"It's a really special opportunity to be involved in an Olympic Games, and being at my third one in a row brings home how amazing these athletes are," he said.

British volunteer Miranda Staveley also brings specialist knowledge to the Games, and when a horse risked overheating at an Olympic equestrian event, she knew exactly what to do.

Volunteers can play a crucial role at Olympic equestrian events
Volunteers can play a crucial role at Olympic equestrian events Behrouz MEHRI AFP

"You have to cool the horse down really quickly when they stop, because it's so hot. It's really dangerous," said the 32-year-old, who has competed in equestrian sports since childhood.

She grabbed a bucket of iced water and washed down the horse, which went on to complete the cross-country course -- and even won a bronze medal.

"Because I'm extremely horsey, I could step into that role really easily," said Staveley, whose day job is in IT.

She volunteered as an equestrian jump judge in London and Rio, but costs and quarantine uncertainties meant she nearly did not make it to Tokyo when the Olympics were postponed by the pandemic.

"I hadn't been planning on going, because I didn't think it was going to happen, to be honest," she said.

But helping at crucial moments, meeting other specialists and training Japanese volunteers has made it "definitely worth going", she added.