Greg Nugent, co-founder of the London 2012 Olympic legacy charity Join In, believes that new research carried out into the value of volunteering in sport shows that the sector plays a fundamental part in society and the economy.
London 2012's former brand, marketing and culture director was speaking at a Join In conference in London, entitled "Hidden diamonds: Uncovering the true value of sport volunteers", where the research findings were presented here today.
Join In's research, which was verified by Howard Reed, director of the economic research consultancy Landman Economics, and Gus O'Donnell, chairman of Frontier Economics and the former Cabinet Secretary, revealed that sport is the single biggest sector of volunteering in the UK.
Their findings discovered that one volunteer in sport creates the capacity for at least 8.5 more people to play more sport and £16,000 ($26,000/€20,000) worth of wellbeing in themselves and those they help to play sport.
Taking this figure in to account, the 100,000 volunteers which Join In recruit and retain each year are valued at £1.6 billion ($2.6 billion/€2 billion)
"The biggest thing I take out of it is probably validating our instincts that volunteers play a fundamental part in the society and economy," said Nugent.
"Volunteering makes you happier.
"London 2012 boosted the awareness of volunteers but since then, we've been able to boost volunteers into sports clubs."
Nugent, who founded Join In with chairman Lord Charles Allen, revealed that when London 2012 started training the volunteers, known as the Games Makers, ahead of the Olympics and Paralympics, it became evident that something extraordinary would happen.
"My mind said, we need somewhere for them to go after the Games," he said.
"I don't want to just finish the Games.
"We were confident we were going to do a great job with the Games but we didn't want to lose the moment so myself and Charles Allen set up Join In.
"We started Join In as a way of getting the Games Makers to go back to local sport.
"And it could have just been a one year thing but the truth is, it's been a three year thing and you see it getting stronger all the time."
Allen believes the growth of sport volunteering challenges the transformation of Stratford in East London and the investment in elite sport as one of the biggest legacies of London 2012.
"When people remember the Games, most people talk about the Games Makers because they wore their uniforms with pride," he said.
"People would come up and congratulate them on the Tube and say thank you for what you've done.
"It was very moving to hear why people chose to get involved in 2012 and how it changed their lives and in some instances, saved their lives.
"They were suffering from depression and they didn't have the confidence to meet people."
Jo Pavey, the oldest woman ever to claim a gold medal at a European Championships when she won the 10,000 metres in August, puts part of her success down to the work of volunteers.
"Without volunteers I wouldn't have been at that Championships," said Pavey,
"I had to spend the early season trying to achieve qualifying times.
"I went to a lot of events in this country where it was set up for me to be able to be in a race to try and achieve qualifying for the team."
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