Wednesday 31 July 2019, 14:51

A volunteer's unexpected World Cup journey

  • Ketsia Nkumbu was surprised to be picked as a volunteer for Canada 2015

  • The experience in her home country was profound

  • Since then she has been building towards a career covering football

When she was 17 years old, Ketsia Nkumbu received a phone call that would change the way football impacted her life. At the time, she didn’t even realise the call was meant for her.

“Canada’s soccer federation called my house,” the Montreal-born Ketsia told “I thought they would be asking for my little sister, but they asked for me.”

Nissi, her younger sister, was a talented footballer matriculating through the Canadian set-up in her home province of Quebec. Ketsia was a speedy, fiery forward herself growing up, but by the time she was applying to colleges, she was convinced that the opportunity for football to be an active part of her life had passed.

That was until Ketsia’s mother, Itifo, saw a chance for her middle daughter to bolster her résumé by volunteering at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and FIFA Women’s World Cup, both of which were to be held in Canada a year apart. Unbeknownst to Ketsia – and in what Ketsia later described as “such a mum move” – Itifo registered her daughter to be part of the pool of prospective volunteers.

And now here Canada Soccer were, asking Ketsia to join the volunteer corps.

“I had no idea what they were talking about, but I had to say that I knew,” Ketsia said. “So I said sure, of course I wanted to. I had no idea this sort of thing even existed! I called my mum to tell her, and then she told me that she had signed me up.”

That phone call embarked her on a journey that included volunteer positions at both those competitions and at UEFA EURO 2016 in France. Now a member of the FIFA Fan Movement, Ketsia has met some of the biggest stars in football and learned firsthand how these global spectacles come to be. She called the experiences “the best of her life.”

Ketsia Nkumbu, a member of the FIFA Fan Movement, volunteering at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015™

“I’ve worked in accreditation, but had the chance to touch a lot of things,” she said of her volunteer work. “In 2015 teams weren’t always able to come to the accreditation centre, so we would often travel to the hotels. You could see how much fun they were having – just laid back and chilling together.

“At one point we were with Brazil, and we were with Marta talking with her. I was shaking! I didn’t know what to do. She was so fun to be around and the whole team was really cool.”

Ketsia and her team also spent significant time with Spain's national team leading up to Canada 2015, even watching the opening game at the hotel alongside FIFA Legend Veronica Boquete and Co.

With the outset of college came uncertainty and anxiety about what her future held, but football continued to buoy her spirits.

“I was seeing my friends graduate and head to university and I was very anxious about where I would be heading,” Ketsia said. “I was sad very often, but football cheered me up every single time.

“I could wake up at six in the morning to watch AC Milan v Sassuolo on a Sunday, or watch three EURO qualifiers in a row without getting tired. Football became my safe haven.”

Having graduated college and enrolled in journalism school, Ketsia now works for a football magazine in Canada, telling and sharing stories about her home country’s emerging culture around the beautiful game.

“Canada is a very multicultural country – especially Montreal, where we speak both French and English,” said Ketsia, whose parents immigrated to Canada from Congo in the 1980s. “A lot of people are coming from Europe, Africa, South America and they bring their culture with them. It’s pretty awesome.”

With football as much a part of her life as ever, Ketsia offered words of encouragement for others.

“This is the best time to be a woman in football,” she said. “I loved the slogan for this year’s World Cup, because we need to dare to shine.

“We can do things that have never been done before, and create this amazing support system of confident, talented and passionate women that want to make a change in the world.”