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Last amended at 05-10-17

Welcome to the Call room at the World & IPCC Athletics Championships 2017

Imagine your excitement. You have been invited to stay at Downton Abbey. If you followed the series, you will be imagining the luxury. Magnificent sitting rooms; luxury bedrooms; multi course banquets. Such were my emotions as I heard I was invited to be a technical official at both the Para World Championships and the IAAF World Championships.

The reality was, indeed, just like Downton Abbey. But as an Assistant Call Room Manager for both Championships I found that I was invited to work in the scullery, and would not be invited above stairs to enjoy the upper class luxuries. Butlers and Ladies Maids might be allowed up there. Maids might be allowed to peek at the rooms when cleaning them. But I was more like the Cook – working 24/7 in the kitchens and scullery. Essential to the smooth running of the home, but kept out of sight. And I soon realised that the opulence was restricted to the upstairs. Downstairs, drafty bare floorboards replaced deep pile carpets.

Now don’t get me wrong. I was delighted to be invited, and I loved my role. And I recognise that without an efficiently run scullery there would be no fine dining, But I did think that as we were now in the 21st century rather than the 19th century the distinction between those upstairs and those downstairs would be less stark.

I was going to work in the Call Room, so I naïvely thought that I would at least get a room to work in. Instead, I was put in the tunnel leading out to the track, under the stands – literally below stairs. And it was not just a tunnel; it was a wind tunnel. It had its own climate. On one side of the tunnel people at trackside were wearing shorts and t shirts. On the other side of the tunnel, on the warm up track people were wearing shorts and t shirts. In my wind tunnel we wore shorts and t shirts, as well as jumpers, winter coats, scarves, hats and gloves. We also had our own wildlife as the local pigeons quickly learned that our tunnel was a useful shortcut from the crumbs dropped by the spectators to the crumbs dropped by the athletes warming up. The hats protected us from the pigeons as well as the wind. A necessary protection, as during the events the pigeons accurately targeted one ITO, a number of athletes, and the delegate for the Tokyo Olympics.

And we also had our own aroma. At one end of the tunnel were the lawnmowers, used by the groundsmen to look after the hallowed West Ham Turf. And at every opportunity the groundsmen topped up the diesel fuel and tested the mowers were working well. The smell of diesel mingled with the smell of pigeon guano marked out our territory.

I should also perhaps explain that we did not have the whole of the tunnel. Some partition walls had been put up to demarcate our precise area. There was, of course, no ceiling. So the walls did not help with the pigeons. But they did provide some degree of protection from the winds. Except that there were doors at both ends, so the protection was minimal. The doors did, however, provide us with a strange mystery throughout the event. The doors had an automatic door closer which held the door shut. This was inconvenient when the Call Room was announced as open to the athletes, so we made some door stoppers to hold the door open. Overnight the door stoppers were stolen. We then got some string to tie the door open. Overnight the string was stolen. We were given a block to hold the door open. The block was stolen. And so it went on for the first week. Attempts to hold the door open were frustrated by the mystery door saboteur. But then it got stranger as the automatic door closer was then stolen; and from then on the door was left to its own devices to blow open and bang shut in the wind – which it did at frequent intervals.

This was my Call Room.

My role in the Call Room was to greet the athletes and make them feel welcome. We were their first point of contact with UKA officials and we were to make a good impression. This was fine for most of the athletes. They timed their entry through the banging door to be greeted by us. Sadly the door was not as tall as many of the athletes – especially the high jumpers. And without a roof the top of the door frame just had a pole for them to duck under – so we greeted the taller athletes as they limboed into the room. Having greeted the athletes I needed to direct them to the correct bays. This required a detailed knowledge of the timetable, and also some judgement (or luck). I was about to tell one of the athletes that he was not entered in an event but after some basic hand signing and pointing I was able to let him know that he was two days early and to come back a couple of days later.

A key job in the Call Room is checking accreditation. You cannot have just anybody wandering in. Although like me you are probably thinking that nobody would enter this area unless they really had to. So you check the athlete’s credentials. One athlete was grumpy and said “you checked my credentials two days ago – you must know who I am by now.”

Another key job is making sure the athletes wear their leg numbers. This is generally a simple matter (although we tried to make it more complicated by being unable to locate the championship leg numbers and by requiring leg numbers to be pinned one day and then pins to be banned the next). “Here are your leg numbers.” “Thank you so much. I will now put them on.” But with some athletes it becomes a game. “Where are the leg numbers I just gave you.” The athlete points to a pile of confetti in the corner and says “they blew off and got torn.” This is no more believable than “you didn’t give me any.” Or “They didn’t fit”, or “I don’t have to wear them because I am famous.” The only excuse we accepted was “They were stolen by a pigeon” as that could have been true.

Another of my roles was summoning the athletes to the call room. One of the great IT innovations was having LED boards around the warm up track which we could use to call the athletes in. This worked well the first time they were called. They skipped (or in the case of, the taller athletes limboed or, wheelchair athletes wheeled) into the call room with a cheery smile, wearing their shorts and t shirts. And then spent the next few minutes putting on their track suits, and coats and blankets. And I can now say “What’s that strange smell?” in 14 different languages. So the next time they were called they were a little more reluctant to come. So I had the job of calling them over the PA system. Yes. That is right. I am “The Voice”. Nobody saw me above stairs, but they did hear me.

I mentioned languages just now, and for a truly international event such as this there are people speaking a wide range of languages – and, while most have good English, language can be a barrier to communication. I am delighted to be able to report that all language problems were quickly overcome. This is partly because a smile appears to be universally understood, and they saw that we were trying to be friendly and helpful. Indeed, we adopted the smiling approach without any formal training. I have since learnt (https://www.translatemedia.com/us/blog-us/the-meaning-of-a-smile-in-different-cultures/ ) that ahead of the Beijing Olympics the Chinese authorities were keen to get more people to smile. Their approach encouraged Olympic stewards to clench a chopstick between their teeth in order to develop their smile muscles.

The Para World Championships gave us some additional problems to address. For example, we only just got the bibs to be worn by guides in time as the delivery company took the parcel back to the depot as there was no one available at the Olympic Stadium to sign for the parcel and I think the helmet socks as still in transit as these never arrived. We also managed the flat tyre on one of the racing wheelchairs. But no problem was too hard for our incredible team, and no event left the call room late, and we checked and prepared every athlete, helping them get to their event ready to deliver an optimal performance. The feedback from the IPC, IAAF Delegates, and IAAF advertising has been that we were well organised and, indeed, better than the Call Room at the Rio Olympics. I was going to say that it is not a competition, but of course, it is.

And now it is over it is time to reflect.

What have I learnt? I was able to combine having a great time with developing my Call Room skills and knowledge. And I have amassed enough anecdotes to spend the next few months (who am I kidding – the next few decades) starting conversations with “When I was at the Worlds ….”

What do I hope those upstairs have learnt? That in the 21st Century the upstairs:downstairs divide is inappropriate. The conditions in the Call Room should be as appealing as elsewhere in the competition. That the Call Room is a discipline of its own, and needs highly trained officials in that discipline to function at its best. And while I may be proficient in the Call Room, next time I want to be back with the starting team.

And the final question – Who am I? Just call me The Voice.

October 2017

 


 

 

A Tribute to the life and athletics service of Dave Holder (1945 - 2016) from England Athletics 6-06-16

Read Gill Freeman's 'letter' to Dave...


KCAA is very grateful to all who provide their services of officials at meetings hosted by the county if you want to know more or have questions answered please contact Gill Freeman (Official Secretary) on officials@kcaa.org.uk  or Maureen Fletcher who assists her and in particular looks after Endurance Officials she can be contacted on endurance@kcaa.org.uk

Here are some photos of the officials team taken at the 2016 County Championships:

Technical Officials clothing
Gill keeps a stock of branded items for technical officials which you can order via email or buy at a county meeting:
                Reversible Fleeces     £25
                Polo Shirts                 £14
                Sweat Shirts              £16
 

Our officials clothing is provided by: tcx4, who are more than happy to add the Kent logo to any item in their full range of items which can be viewed at: http://www.tcx4.co.uk  Details of cost can be provided by Karen White on karen@championcorporateclothing.co.uk

 

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