One week to go: 2018 Mediterranean Games in full swing
Volunteers criticize lack of attendance halfway through event
Three rings, representing Africa, Asia and Europe, the three continents bordering the waters of the Mediterranean sea. This is the official logo of the Mediterranean Games, a major sports event taking place every four years with the support of the International Olympic Committee. Tunis, Athens, Beirut, Naples, Barcelona… These are all cities that have hosted the Games, since 1951. A list, that from now on will also include Tarragona.
In southern Catalonia and with 130,000 inhabitants, the city is the smallest to ever host this sports event… and the challenge was a big one. The games were indeed supposed to take place last year, but they were postponed due to budget uncertainty caused by the political instability in Spain. Tarragona made a point of underlining its Roman heritage, and games’ mascot Tarracus wears a helmet inspired by soldiers of the ancient empire.
‘A little Olympics,’ says participant
Preparations were underway up until the last minute, to make sure everything was ready for the firing of the starting gun last friday. Running until Sunday next week, almost 4,000 athletes from 26 countries are competing in 33 different sports, including athletics, handball and swimming. They’re staying in a village-sized hotel located in the PortAventura theme park, with facilities such as a gym, medical center and leisure areas.
“It’s like a little Olympics,” said Sergio Palazzi, coach to the Italian handball team, adding how “exciting” it is for him to stay in the Mediterranean Village with the other players. This feeling was also echoed by Tunisian handball player Jihed Jaballah, who stated that he and his team are “proud to be here, with all these nations,” and “to meet players from other countries.”
The games also expect thousands of visitors… but the attendance has so far been scarce. Empty stands and almost deserted esplanades have been a controversial image that some say puts into question whether the city of Tarragona has succeeded in getting its own citizens interested in the games. Indeed, volunteer David Navarro called the outcome a “disaster,” explaining that “there isn’t anybody” in the facilities, “only volunteers.”
Still, Navarro, like many other young volunteers, is enthusiastic about the main attraction: sports and elite athleticism. “I love sports,” he said, “and for me it’s amazing because I can be with the people that do sport.” Many other volunteers, including Andrea Segura, explained that it was “a good experience” and “exciting” because they could “interact with the players.”
There are thousands of volunteers, all between the ages of 17 and 30, coming from 25 different countries. Hailing from France to Croatia, from Italy to Egypt, from the UK to Lebanon, those from abroad will have stayed in Tarragona for around a month, by the time the event is over. And, among the young helpers are even some refugees. Nine in total, they’re originally from countries like Syria, Venezuela, Colombia, Sudan, Iran and Morocco.