Formula E

Three cheers for the volunteers: the heartbeat of Hong Kong’s sporting events out in force for the E-Prix

An army of enthusiasts give up their freetime to ensure the city’s sporting events go off without a hitch

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 1:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 8:41pm

Most sports events follow the same script: the launch, the competition, the celebrations, the exits. Spectators go off on their merry way reminiscing about the winners and losers, often forgetting to acknowledge the people who had glued the event together; the silent heroes labouring away in the background; the volunteers.

“It’s like nothing else,” said senior citizen Cheyenne Yu Chin-yin, eyes glistening, joined by wife Maria Ku Lai-chee and youthful volunteer enthusiast Charmaine Chan Yue-bing as they talk plans ahead of this weekend’s HKT Hong Kong E-Prix. “You cannot measure volunteerism with money or titles – it’s not that kind of thing.”

Volunteering for sports events is no stroll in the park. From crowd control to updating scoreboards, to meeting the needs of spectators and competitors; not to mention the hours of pre-event planning and response protocols and the post-event debriefs.

“It’s a challenge,” added 24-year-old Cathay Pacific employee Chan. “Sometimes we have to get up at three in the morning – the skies are completely dark – but it somehow reflects on our volunteerism. “We’re sleepy but we still deliver our work. The team spirit is always there.”

Sacrificing slivers of free time would be a deterrent to most full-time workers, but Chan feels obliged to serve on behalf of her beloved home.

“I just got off work and am on two hours of sleep,” she explained while gearing up for the Hong Kong Open last week. “You forget your tiredness when you see an event work well. We come before everything starts and leave after it ends – it’s really satisfying.

“You become addicted to volunteering and continue to come back because you witness the event from being completely unplanned, to having a structure, to completion.”

“Through all these mega events, we hope to [boost] Hong Kong’s reputation as a whole. We are only a small city but we have inner beauty, and we want to show we are strong enough to handle events like the Formula E.”

Cynics would question the trio’s motives; surely they are doing this for the perks? The chance to witness a sporting spectacle for free? Or perhaps for the event freebies or sponsor giveaways?

“We get breakfast, lunch and our T-shirts as souvenirs,” said Chan. “But actually, we’re just looking for a simple thank you. That’s enough for us, we’re not asking for more.”

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Despite the visible age gap between Chan and the retired pair, the friends started their volunteering escapades at the same time 10 years ago; one year before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“We found out the equestrian event would be staged in Hong Kong with full support of the government, so we applied and got lucky,” recalled Yu, who lives a quaint retirement life with his spouse in Germany. “We are a simple couple and our son is all grown up so we wanted to stay active.”

“We started our first training in 2007 to prepare for a pre-Olympic rehearsal. Since then, we’ve had about 100 members ... Charmaine is the youngest and we are the oldest.”

All three have stuck to sports events ever since, bolstering their volunteering resumes with cross harbour swims, dragon boat events, triathlons ... the list goes on and is not stopping any time soon.

“We rescheduled our travel plans for [E-Prix], otherwise we’d be in Germany already. There is still a strong drive behind us, but now that I’m getting old, I reserve most of my energy for the last day of the event.

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“We aren’t doing this for the fun. We do it for Formula E. Strangely enough, we talked amongst ourselves and realised we all have the same passion: to see the E-Prix as an annual event.

“Just last week, they had the 64th annual Macau Grand Prix. We’d like to see the 64th anniversary of the Formula E in Hong Kong.”

In many ways, volunteers are in a race of their own – minus the champagne-fuelled podium celebrations.

“This is really the heart – the nucleus – of volunteerism. You see these sportspeople overcoming difficulties and achieving goals while we also have a mission: we target, we deliver.”