Disability no barrier for young volunteers

Vina del Mar born and bred, Ricardo, 16, and Ignacio, 24, have become firm friends thanks to FIFA’s Youth Programme for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015. The pair have formed quite a partnership thanks to table football, where Ricardo takes up goalkeeping and defensive duties and Ignacio controls the midfielders and the forwards.

Aside from being table football wizards, the duo have an important role to play at the tournament: helping to carry the FIFA Fair Play flag on to the pitch at the Estadio Sausalito, an essential part of the pre-match protocol. Local boys and committed Colo Colo fans, the two youngsters both have Down syndrome and are thrilled to be part of Chile 2015.

“I’m delighted to have this opportunity because I like football a lot,” said Ricardo, keeping his eye firmly on the little ball fizzing from one end of the table to the other. “I was nervous to begin with because I wanted to do things right, but I’m not anymore,” added Ignacio just before notching another goal, much to their delight.

Ricardo and Ignacio are just two of nearly 30 youngsters with disabilities taking part in the Vina del Mar volunteer programme, more than at any of the other Chile 2015 venues. The project has the backing of Club Cerro Varon and the foundations Miradas Compartidas, APARID and Renacer, with each of the youngsters being selected for the programme on merit.

“They’re responsible, punctual and very proactive,” Raul Garces, the coordinator of the LOC’s Youth and Volunteers Programme in Vina del Mar, told FIFA.com. “They want to help and they want to meet people and be part of something, which is exactly what they’ve found here.”

The perfect volunteer Another of the volunteers on duty at Chile 2015 is 29-year-old Ernesto, who made his way through the selection process despite having a motor disability that affects his speech and mobility. Overcoming such challenges is nothing new for Ernesto, however, who has a degree in Communication and Public Relations from the Academia de Idiomas y Estudios Profesionales (AIEP) in Vina del Mar to his name.

Given his qualifications, it is no surprise to find that Ernesto has been assisting with half-time media-related duties at the matches staged in his home town, such as welcoming journalists to the media room or handing out team sheets in the press box.

“I’m very proud to be representing my city and my country,” the local lad told FIFA.com. “I like meeting people from other countries and talking to journalists who you’d otherwise only see on TV. It’s amazing to be here helping to organise a World Cup.”

A diehard Santiago Wanderers fan, Ernesto is hoping, like any young man his age, that taking part in Chile 2015 will help him get a job: “I have some experience in the media and what I like most is the radio. I hope I can go out now and get a steady job.”