• Yana Banerjee-Bey, an applicant to volunteer at India 2017, has experience volunteering at Olympic Games
  • She has been on 14 mountaineering expeditions, writing a handbook on adventure sports
  • Banerjee-Bey says "the power of football needs to be harnessed in our society"

The Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 received an overwhelming response to the Volunteer Programme the minute registrations began. Over 2,000 applications were received in the first hour and it took just three days to reach 10,000 applications.

While most of the submissions received by the LOC were from people hoping to volunteer for the first time, a few of the applicants caught the eye for their previous experience. One application that particularly stood out was of 58-year-old Yana Banerjee-Bey, a sports enthusiast with an adventurous side, illustrated by the fact that she has been on 14 mountaineering expeditions. A journalist by profession, she also wrote India’s first handbook on adventure sports, published in 2003.

Yana has volunteered at several major sporting events across the globe, including the 2012 Olympic Games (London), 2014 Winter Olympic Games (Sochi), 2015 Pan American Games (Toronto) and the 2016 Olympics (Rio), among others.

The obvious question arises: what motivates a journalist and sports enthusiast to travel the world and volunteer her services to help out at sporting events?

"For someone who loves watching sports, there is nothing bigger than being at the Olympics," Banerjee-Bey said. "To work for them, see them from the inside; to see Olympic and world records being set and to be part of them in our small way as the volunteers’ team at the venue – that is a dream come true, every single time. The magic doesn’t fade. Each Games are unique, they have their own ecosystem. The cultural backdrop is different each time and it makes for a wonderfully enjoyable and memorable experience."

Interestingly, Yana always makes it a point to buy souvenirs from the city, which is hosting the event. It may seem like the obvious thing to do for a 'tourist', but the reason is much deeper.

"It is also important to spread money around as a tourist," she said. "They should make some extra income because their city is hosting a global event. As a middle-class worker, I felt a sense of noblesse oblige towards the chaps selling stuff in the Stratford Shopping Centre, on Copacabana, and the old Russian ladies on the streets in Krasnodar."

Focus turns to India 2017
Yana heard about the FIFA U-17 World Cup being hosted in India from newspapers back in December 2013, when the decision was taken.

"I have worked as a volunteer and helped so many countries put up major sporting events," she said when asked why she wanted to volunteer at the tournament. "In my own country, I have only been able to work for the three F1 races (in 2011, 2012 and 2013). This is the first time that FIFA is holding an event in my country and I want to use my experience and knowledge of how things are done to contribute to making it a success. Of all sports, there is nothing like football. The power of football needs to be harnessed in our society."

An experienced woman, who has travelled the globe and volunteered at an array of events, had a message for her country's young girls, who she feels can be seldom hesitant to proffer their services for events.

"In most cases, women are more capable, mature and farsighted than the men in their families," Banerjee-Bey said. "They learn how to juggle, adjust and cope with what life throws at them very early in life and then squeeze out of life what they can. If you want to do as much as possible with your life, you have to push yourself, come out of your comfort zone, cross barriers and search for experiences that give you value – like volunteering and its benefits. And, as women in this society, pushing, leaving comfort zones, breaking barriers are all things we know how to do – sometimes unobtrusively and ingeniously."

Asked whether she was excited for India to host the U-17 World Cup, she said, "Of course. It’s football! And it’s FIFA!"