The sensitivity games

General Gayety

by Leslie Robinson  Contributing Writer  lesarobinson@gmail.com
Published: March 31, 2012 in General Gayety

The Olympic Games are a huge undertaking for any country that hosts them. So many things can go wrong, from terrorist attacks to ticket snafus. Organizers of this summer’s London games are determined not to fail in one particular area: sensitivity.

The water polo players might drown each other and the boxers will pound one another into clotted cream, but visitors to the games will be treated with civility and respect. Every last bloody one of them.

Over 70,000 Olympic volunteers are slated to take sensitivity training ahead of the London games, which begin on July 27. The Telegraph reported that during training sessions at Wembley Arena, volunteers answered six multiple-choice questions using electronic keypads.

This “diversity and inclusion” quiz tested how volunteers would handle “sensitive” situations and I’m not talking about a situation like an Israeli weightlifter dropping his barbell on an Iranian competitor’s foot.

Consider the first question, the “sexual orientation” question: A spectator complains to you that there are two men holding hands sitting next to them — they feel very uncomfortable and would like you to tell the couple to stop. What do you do?

You tell them to go watch badminton instead.

That isn’t one of the possible answers. “You tell the person to stop being a homophobic idiot” is. So is “politely ask the couple to stop holding hands.”

The correct answer is, “You explain that there is a huge diversity of people at the London 2012 Games, which includes gay, lesbian and bisexual couples.”

Wordy, but accurate. And, sensitive. The homos can continue being themselves and the complainers get their chance to be heard. I’d like to know what the volunteer is supposed to do if the complainer becomes testy. Call in a supervisor, I suppose, or security. Or that Israeli weightlifter.

The quiz also includes a “gender/gender identity” question: A spectator approaches you asking politely where the nearest toilets are. You are not sure if the spectator is male or female. What do you do?

If the spectator is American, you watch with amusement as he or she turns red at having used the word “toilet” instead of “bathroom.”

Nope, that isn’t among the choices. The options are ask the person “politely if they are male or female,” or “panic” or “tell them where the male, female and accessible toilets are.”

The latter is, of course, the correct answer, although I’d give points for honesty to anyone who went with panic.

The other questions on the quiz concern “ethnicity/race,” “disability,” “age” and “belief.” All the volunteers receive a handbook to take home, in case anyone wants to do some sensitivity cramming.

“I thought it was unnecessary and they could have spent the money in other ways,” said one volunteer from Manchester. “I know they are trying to cater for everybody, but this was a bit patronizing.”

This person felt London 2012 organizers should have faith in the volunteers’ common sense and pointed out that by the end of the quiz, “people were choosing silly answers on purpose.”

That must’ve sent organizers into a panic. They’re probably still having nightmares of a volunteer snatching a Muslim’s hijab from her head and tossing it into a passing kayak.

The diversity quiz may be over the top, but it’s well intentioned and it certainly now has people — Olympic volunteers and others — thinking about how everybody should be treated, when they’re not poking fun at the quiz.

I volunteer to see how well the sensitivity training works. If the London organizers fly my partner and me over, put us up and get us tickets, we’ll hold hands during a basketball game. Grueling work, but we’re willing to make the sacrifice. : :

info: lesarobinson@gmail.com . generalgayety.com