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Olympic athletes help Rotary promote polio eradication

By Arnold R. Grahl
Reprinted from Rotary News – 1 August 2012

Olympic athletes help Rotary promote polio eradication

Olympic diver Tom Daley is featured in “This Close” posters as part of a publicity campaign by the Rotary Club of Plympton, Devon, England. Rotarians in India also lined up several members of Indian’s Olympic team, including boxer Vijender Singh, for their “This Close” campaign.

The best athletes in the world have gathered in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics, and some of them are helping to spread the word about Rotary’s campaign to rid the world of polio.

Rotarians in Plymouth, Devon, England, used a few connections to line up Olympic divers Tom Daley and Tonia Couch for “This Close” posters, which have been displayed around Plymouth and at the training facility used by Ghana’s Olympic team.

Darren Hands, a member of the Rotary Club of Plympton, was put in contact with the athletes’ coach by a photographer friend who takes pictures of the divers regularly. The coach was happy to approach Daley and Couch and help make arrangements, Hands says.

“We did the shoot quite early in the morning so as not to impede their training,” he says. “We then produced various-size posters and postcards, as well as got the images printed in the local press and onto club and district websites.”

District 1290 received a public relations grant to use Couch’s image on bus advertisements around the counties of Devon and Cornwall to raise her image during the Olympics, promote Rotary’s polio efforts, and help with a membership drive.

“The campaign has received a lot of praise,” says Hands. “Together with the Rotary Club of Grantham’s Swimarathon, we were awarded the Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) PR Award at our national conference back in April.”

Other Olympic athletes participating in the “This Close” campaign are more than a dozen members of India’s team, including members of the men’s boxing, men’s and women’s weightlifting, and men’s and women’s wrestling teams.

Appealing to parents, wrestler Sushil Kum, a bronze medalist at the 2008 Beijing games, said: “In 1988, 500 children were getting affected by polio in India every day. Today, our country is reaching steadily toward eradication of polio. We need your help to win this fight.”

And Vijender Singh, a member of the boxing team who won a bronze medal in Beijing, said: “Polio vaccine can save a child from polio paralysis. Let us ensure that children are not paralyzed by giving them the vital drops.”

Home hosting and cleanup

Rotarians have displayed the Olympic spirit in other ways, as well. Tony Betts, a member of the Rotary Club of Redbridge, Greater London, volunteered to take part in home hosting organized through District 1130 and is playing host to a Rotarian couple from Jacksonville, Florida, USA, who are attending the games.

A Rotarian for six years, Betts says he has always been interested in the international aspect of Rotary and in meeting people from around the world. “It’s why I’ve attended the RI convention every year since I became a member,” he says. “I’ve always seen Rotary as bigger than just your local club.”

Through an initiative of the RIBI Olympic Committee called Work for Purpose, more than 300 volunteers signed up to work as cleaners in the athletic village to raise money for various Rotary projects. One effort includes members of the Rotary clubs of Hatfield and Stevenage, Hertfordshire, whose work will benefit several local children’s hospices.

Rotarians have also signed up to clean up after the games.

“Rotary and the Olympics share a common ethos,” says Debbie Hodge, governor of District 1260. “That is the building of a more peaceful world.”

Read about Rotarians who carried the Olympic torch.

Learn more about Rotary and the Olympics on the website of Rotary International in Great Britian and Ireland.