Volunteers revel in World Cup experience

  • The biggest team of all: the volunteers at Lithuania 2021

  • Several hundred volunteers assisted at the Futsal World Cup

  • Many European countries represented but also those as far afield as Argentina and IR Iran

The FIFA Futsal World Cup 2021 Lithuania™ brought together national teams from 24 countries. And while most have already left for home, there is one particularly sizeable group who were the first to arrive and will be the last to leave.

Numbering several hundred and from diverse backgrounds, they are of course the tournament volunteers. Largely unnoticed by those following proceedings on TV or online, they have nonetheless been hugely appreciated by those attending the arenas for the crucial part they have played.

Volunteers in Kaunas during FIFA Futsal World Cup 2021

Specifically, they have been providing invaluable assistance to the participating teams, spectators, FIFA staff and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) in areas from transport and accreditation to media and venue services in the three host cities of Klaipeda, Kaunas, and Vilnius.

"It’s nice to see that people are willing to dedicate themselves for such a long period – almost a month. And most of them have been incredibly motivated, eager to learn and assist others in need,” Sigita Austinskaite, the LOC’s Volunteer Manager told FIFA.com.

KLAIPEDA, LITHUANIA - SEPTEMBER 17: A general view during the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2021 group E match between Spain and Japan at Klaipeda Arena on September 17, 2021 in Klaipeda, Lithuania. (Photo by Tullio Puglia - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Those helping out included not only individuals and young people, but also families and senior citizens. “For example, we had both male and female twins coming to volunteer,” revealed Austinskaite, “while in Klaipeda we had a number of people over the age of 65. They fitted very well into the venue team and some were also able to learn a little English with the help of the FIFA staff.”

International flavour

The teams of volunteers were nothing if not international, with an array of European countries – from Spain and Germany to Romania – represented, not to mention places as far flung as IR Iran and Argentina.

One of this international cohort is Caterina, a 24-year-old Argentinian of Lithuanian descent. Her grandparents emigrated from the Baltic state to South America between the two World Wars.

Despite growing up in La Plata in the province of Buenos Aires, Caterina held on to her Lithuanian roots and three years ago came to study in Vilnius, where she mastered the local language. Recently she began studying Sports Management in Kaunas, and so jumped at the chance to see how a major sports event is run.

“It’s really interesting to be a part of a FIFA event. You get to meet a lot of people and there’s plenty of action,” said the Argentinian, who performed various roles from accreditation and VIP services to assisting the official mascot Ivartito.

Volunteer Caterina

She also got to learn a new sport.“I didn’t know the rules of futsal before, but now I know how it’s played," said the girl who supports Racing Club because of her father. "It’s an interesting, dynamic sport. When I have the chance, I try watch the matches and it’s really great, as I can also cheer for my homeland Argentina."

On Wednesday, she was fortunate to attend a Superclasico in person and watch as her compatriots prevailed against Brazil in their semi in Kaunas: “It’s great to see so many people coming out to support both teams, even Lithuanians can be seen wearing Brazil and Argentina jerseys. I was expecting Brazil to win but the Albiceleste managed to go through, so I was dancing with joy!” she admitted, adding there was even a party hosted by local Argentinians after the win.

Volunteer Caterina

For some locals, the chance to witness an elite international event such as the FIFA Futsal World Cup is an unmissable opportunity to learn from the leading professionals, while also getting to know people from other countries.

Audrius, a Lithuanian who is also 24, studied Sports Management & Development in the University of Portsmouth, before spending last year coaching basketball in Sweden. For him the chance to volunteer in his home town was too good to miss.

 Volunteer Audrius with mascot Ivartito

“I have career aspirations in sport, and since it’s a world class event I wanted to see its organization up close. I wanted to see how FIFA and the LOC operate and get acquainted with people working at this type of event,” said Audrius, who has been part of match operations and volunteer management in Kaunas. “It was great to watch the games afterwards and feel I’d been part of all that. A lot of things impressed me, especially working with national teams before games and the whole matchday-preparation side of things. Also, it was interesting to meet people from all over the world.

From a sporting perspective, Audrius told us he had played futsal before and thus knew the game, but that seeing elite teams had given him a new perspective. “I learned about the rules in detail, as well as tactical things that teams have employed during the tournament.”

Indeed, the teams themselves have acknowledged the great efforts of the organizers and volunteers. One particular episode stuck in Audrius’ memory: “When Thailand played in Kaunas, it was a lovely surprise to walk into their dressing room the day after the match and see a thank you message on the board.”

And although the tournament concludes in a couple of days and only one team will be able to take the trophy home, the team of volunteers will be taking away rewards of their own: weeks of great memories, unforgettable experiences and new friends.