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Thursday, Apr. 25, 2019
Capitalizing on the Commonwealth connection
by Randy Pascal

Within sporting circles, they are commonly referred to as “Games junkies”.

Thriving within the environment that is the around the clock exhilaration of large multi-sport events that have been hosted world-wide, these individuals venture from one stop to the next, tackling short-term contract positions that allow them to work within the very heart of the storm.

Just recently returned from his role with the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas, Sudburian Matt Spina can absolutely see himself fully immersed in this lifestyle, at least for the foreseeable future. “Being paid to travel isn’t so bad,” he suggested with a smile.

A graduate of the Sport Management program at Brock University, the 24 year old St Charles College graduate prefers the term “event hopping”, though the eventual outcome is clearly the same. Interestingly enough, all of this is the result of a relatively innocent conversation with a teaching assistant in St Catharines.

“I never really had an overwhelming interest in event management or Games, in general,” said Spina, now relaxing at home, with an impressive collection of international Games pins at his side. “By the end of that forty minute conversation with my TA, I was convinced that this was something I really wanted to do. Once I got there, I realized that this is something I could do for a few years now.”

Benefitting from the existence of the Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Scholarships at Brock, Spina interviewed successfully for a role within the organizing committee of the Commonwealth Youth Games, specifically within the Games Family Relations team.

That’s family, in the sense of the entire Commonwealth representing one large family. As accreditation manager, Spina worked closely with passport validation, Visa issues and such. “Basically, it was everything that is required for athletes, coaches, officials, secretary generals, sport presidents to come over and attend,” he stated.

“It’s similar to the registration systems I have seen that sporting clubs use, only a lot higher level and more of an 18-step verification process. We would receive mass entry upload spreadsheets that required the verification of every little detail. It was a bit of a painstaking process, but it was necessary.”

Though that partial job description might sound a tad tedious, there was definitely a component of the work that appealed to Spina’s more gregarious side. “I’m a people person, I love being able to meet and interact with new people,” he said. “This was, for me, an opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and gain international experience.”

In fact, Spina and his team often served as the key point of contact for the chef de missions of the 70 or so Commonwealth countries which attended the Games. While the host Bahamian team topped the charts with one hundred athletes, and the likes of Australia (75), England (73) and Canada (60) all enjoyed sizeable delegations, the reality for the Commonwealth Youth contingent is that no less than 38 teams arrived with fewer than ten entries, in total.

For Spina, this was indeed a chance to expand the scope of his sporting spectrum. It’s unlikely that he had interacted, very often, over the years, with the good people of Malawi, Lesotho, Vanuatu, Nauru, Tuvalu or Niue. Google them – they all exist.

Arriving and setting up base in Naussau at the end of April, Spina and his co-horts would see the workload increase as the Games drew nearer, reaching a crescendo in the month prior to the week-long event which ran from July 18th to July 23rd. It was a pace that allowed the former competitive soccer talent to put to good use a skill-set he has honed, very gradually, while working for the Greater Sudbury Soccer Club in recent summers.

“It sounds like I’m boiling it down, but if I had to sum it up, it was multi-tasking and being able to prioritize,” said Spina. “It was a never ending battle with multiple work flows at once. During the month of the Games, there was a 26-day stretch where we worked for about 14 hours a day, every day, seven days a week.”

Yet it is the high of that rush of adrenaline that keeps Spina and those of his ilk coming back. As he looks forward, he does so armed with a greater knowledge of exactly what to expect. “The whole insight into the Games process, that was a big takeaway,” he said.

“The skills that you apply draw from a whole lot of different areas – scheduling co-ordination, working with different systems, general technical capabilities, not to mention the terminology and specifics of the Games. You build this knowledge so quickly, with everything happening at such a fast and furious pace.”

In the end, however, it all boils down to the people. This was a reality that struck Spina, right between the eyes, even before the opening ceremonies began. “You work so closely with these people on line, going back and forth, that when they show, you feel like you really know them.”

And by the end of the Games, he had enjoyed that same sensation, even with the athletes. “The biggest impact for me was seeing some of those athletes where I had worked directly with their coaches,” he said. “Knowing the back story of the athletes provided a little extra meaning. We really had to go above and beyond to get some of the athletes here, and then seeing their name up on the scoreboard made it all seem worthwhile.”

Catching his breath back in Sudbury, just for a while, Spina recently secured a set of four interviews for positions with the 2018 Commonwealth Games, set to take place in Gold Coast (Australia) from April 5th to the 15th, 2018. And if he has his way, one senses this is hardly the last stop on this whirlwind tour of sporting opportunities.

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