Karim Fathi, having volunteered at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 and graduated from the FIFA/CIES Sport Management Programme, has again been volunteering at Turkey 2013. Here, he blogs for FIFA.com on his experiences.

It all started when I decided that I needed to do something new in the summer of 2013. I had used previous summers as times of rest from my university studies, but this summer was to be the last I would enjoy as an undergraduate student. I was aiming to gain new experiences outside of my home country and know how major FIFA events are organised and conducted from having served as a volunteer at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009. Each country has its special way of doing business, so it would be interesting to know how things are carried out in Turkey.

So, having frequently checked the FIFA website, I found openings for volunteers in two FIFA Tournaments: the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil, and the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey. I filed and submitted an application for both, choosing the department of marketing as my preferred area, being a marketing student myself.

I then took part in all the required online training and interviews and, luckily, I was accepted by both tournaments. I then had to choose one, as both were being played simultaneously, and decided on the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey. This tournament was closer to my country, just a two hour flight, and, more importantly, involved more match days than the FIFA Confederations Cup, giving me more opportunities to garner new experiences.

Also, being an alumnus of the FIFA/CIES Sport Management Programme (2012), I was sure that such experience would build upon what I learnt in the programme curriculum, mainly in the areas of marketing and event management.

Language barriers overcome
My experience as a volunteer has been an interesting one. First of all, I wasn’t acquainted with any Turkish words upon my arrival; my only languages were Arabic and English. As the majority of Turkish people generally speak only limited English, it was initially really hard to deal with supervisors and fellow volunteers. But this was when I realised that the saying, ‘football is a universal language’, is actually true. Thankfully, everything was a success.

My main responsibility as a marketing volunteer was to be in charge, along with five other volunteers, of the FIFA experience stand. The FIFA stand, built outside the Istanbul Stadium, consists of a room that has a 360-degree projection video about FIFA. The process consists of the fan registering his name, email and photo outside the room with one of the volunteers.

Upon entering the room, the fan is equipped with headphones (either English or Turkish), and experiences the four-minute video about FIFA, its goals, accomplishments and projects. The room also contains some virtual reality experiences such as fans doing the Mexican wave together, or shooting a virtual ball to score a penalty. After the video ends, the fan measures his heartbeat through a special machine and the result, along with their personal picture, is sent to his or her email address.

My role as a volunteer at the FIFA stand was to help fans register, organising the queues, and sometimes to aid the participants inside the 360-degree projection room in order to maximise their FIFA experience. I was also able to help fans who spoke English or Arabic, and my fellow volunteers also helped me learn a few Turkish words along the way.

I was also partially responsible under the supervision of the marketing supervisor of Local Organising Committee for organising and place the drinks (soda-energy-water) of the FIFA Marketing partners in their respective positions: dressing rooms, VIP areas, fan areas etc. I was also accountable for take notice of the local sponsors of the stadium, in order for them not to contradict with the FIFA marketing sponsors.

United by football
The main thing that impressed me was something I saw in the 360-degree projection video, and which is genuinely true. Within the video, the commentator says that FIFA brings people together, no matter their race, gender, ethnicity, religion and so on. Through my experience as a volunteer at the FIFA stand, I experienced this first-hand. So far I have met people from Turkey, Mexico, Spain, Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire, USA, Korea Republic, Portugal, Uruguay, France, Colombia, Mali and Uzbekistan! I even met a couple of Egyptians!

All the fans who visited the FIFA stand were really impressed with what they saw. At the end of each video I could hear applause from inside the room, and knew that the video had really touched the people inside, no matter their different cultures and languages.

In summary, I really enjoyed my experience as a volunteer in a major event such as the FIFA U-20 World Cup. What made my experience more enjoyable was the warmth and affection I experienced from all the Turkish people. It’s also worth mentioning that all the supervisors in the Local Organising Committee have been very friendly and down to earth.

There was no sense of established hierarchy; for example, the marketing manager of the stadium would lift a table with one of the volunteers without a second thought. The same applies to the FIFA personnel. They were also from different nationalities - Switzerland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain - but always worked as a team with the rest of the volunteers making the FIFA stand successful and enjoyable for all fans.

To finalise my blogging experience, I would like to quote part of FIFA’s mission:
“Unity: We believe it is FIFA´s responsibility to foster unity within the football world and to use football to promote solidarity, regardless of gender, ethnic background, faith or culture”

After my experience as a volunteer, I can testify this is 100 per cent true.