Switzerland’s volunteers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ paid a visit to the Home of FIFA in Zurich on Tuesday, and as well as meeting with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, they learnt a bit more about the workings of world football’s governing body. A diverse group, they also provided a perfect snapshot of the FIFA World Cup's universal appeal, with youngsters and the not so young, men, women, native-born Swiss citizens and people from various different backgrounds all united by their mutual passion for the game.

“I’m proud to welcome to the Home of FIFA Switzerland’s volunteers, who have all offered their services for South Africa 2010,” said the FIFA President in his opening address, speaking both to the volunteers themselves and the numerous ambassadors present, from South Africa, Algeria, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Japan and Korea Republic. “Without the volunteers, it would be quite simply impossible to organise even the smallest of competitions. Football, like all sports, is based on the volunteer spirit. I’m happy that you will be accompanying FIFA to South Africa.”

The volunteer recruitment programme was an enormous success, with 67,999 applications coming from 170 countries. An average of 1,600 candidatures were received per day during the application process, which ran from 20 July and 31 August 2009, and around 15,000 volunteers are now gearing up for duty in South Africa.

Having fun while helping out
After a presentation detailing FIFA’s activities and a guided tour of FIFA’s Zurich headquarters, Switzerland’s 12 selected volunteers seemed more ready than ever to commence their adventure on South African soil. “I’m actually leaving on Sunday to do a bit of tourism before the start of the competition,” explained Fanny Ntsika, originally from Congo DR.

Fluent in several different languages and scheduled to provide linguistic support in Cape Town, Ntsika has taken two months of unpaid time off work. “I don’t really know why, but I’ve always dreamed of going to South Africa,” she said. “When I saw that the World Cup was going to happen over there, I said to myself: ‘Why not try to take part in it?’ I filled in a form in 2008 and here I am.”

Theobald O. Schmid’s participation came about somewhat differently. “I met a volunteer during the World Ski Championships in Saint-Moritz and I said to myself: ‘I can do that too,’” recounted the enthusiastic pensioner. “After that I put myself forward for EURO 2008 and was accepted. I worked in logistics there, answering a load of requests at the last minute, each one different to the next. I liked that so I applied for South Africa 2010.”

As for Heitor Mattos, the Brazilian volunteer can hardly believe he will be taking part. “Back in 2008, when I was still in Brazil, I saw on the website that you could ask to be a volunteer,” he said. “I signed up without really believing it would happen. I then moved to Switzerland for work and a few months later I got a positive response.” Heitor has been assigned to Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg and cannot wait to get started. “It’s a dream for me to be going to the World Cup. I want to contribute and I want to really feel the event – that’s why I put myself forward.”

Fanny echoed those thoughts, excited by the prospect of being at the heart of the action when the tournament gets under way. “It’s my continent and I’m proud that the biggest event in the world is going to be taking place there,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “I want to experience something huge and I think it’ll be a unique experience that’ll help me in the future. Plus I’m also hoping that an African team wins it.”

Candidates from across the globe
Other than the host nation, the country which provided the greatest number of applicants was Nigeria, with 750 in total. The USA followed with 554 applications and Brazil was close behind on 489. Johannesburg proved the most popular Host City, prompting 16,280 requests, while Tshwane/Pretoria was next on 8,496 and Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth third with 7,365.

Theobald, who has known South Africa since 1967, remains somewhat more composed than his younger colleagues, although he too is raring for the tournament to begin. “I hope this World Cup will be pleasant for the host country and its people, who I have a lot of time for,” he said. “I’m sure it will be a peaceful and calm event.”

All three are well aware that they are in a fortunate position and intend to take maximum advantage. They expect to come back with memories that will last a lifetime, with Heitor thinking a long way down the line. “It’s a unique experience and something I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren about – when I have some,” he joked.

For his part, the FIFA President already knows Africa well, as he explained with enthusiasm to the volunteers. “The first time I travelled to Africa for FIFA was in 1976, when I went to Addis Ababa,” he said. “I fell in love with the continent and realised that football there was about more than just kicking a ball. You’ll realise that for yourselves from 11 June onwards.”