Without them, major tournaments simply could not go ahead. No matter which competition they work on, they wholeheartedly lend their passion and skills.
Almost 1,000 Volunteers will play a vital role at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland. In fact, they have already lent a helping hand at the first, big warm-up event for the tournament – the draw for the finals, which took place on 24 February in Gdynia.
A team of volunteers working in areas such as transport, accommodation, media, marketing, accreditation and the organising committee’s office were involved at the draw. However, before they started work in Gdynia, like every other volunteer, they had to go through a recruitment process.
About 2,000 people applied online – 51 per cent men, 49 per cent women. Young people made up the majority of applicants, with 61 per cent of volunteers aged 18-24. However, there will be times when those younger helpers will need guidance from more experienced ones, so there is no shortage of senior volunteers on hand. The oldest applicant is 91 years old.
While a large majority come from Poland, there are also applications from countries further afield – such as Brazil, Indonesia, Ecuador, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, Great Britain and Zimbabwe, which is no less than 12,964 kilometres from the host country.
The recruitment interviews were not always straightforward either. One of the candidates, a firefighter, had to cut his conversation short because he was called to extinguish a fire.
The average interview lasted 19 minutes and were conducted in five languages: Polish, English, German, Spanish and French. 92 per cent of volunteers speak English, 58 per cent German, 22 per cent Spanish, but there are a lot of more languages represented, so visitors don’t need to worry – there will always be someone in close proximity who will be able to understand you.
The first opportunity some of the Polish volunteers had to rub shoulders with those taking part in the U-20 World Cup was at the group stage draw in Gdynia.
“Volunteers were involved in preparations for the draw, as well as the event itself,” said Magdalena Galecka, who is the volunteer coordinator from the Events Organisation, Safety and Infrastructure Department at the Polish Football Federation (PZPN) .
“Starting on Thursday, they lent their help to the Welcome Desk at the hotel and the Accreditation Office. It was the turn of the drivers and those at the Welcome Desk at the airport to join the action on Friday. On Saturday, four volunteers helped with organising the FIFA Legends event. During the actual draw on Sunday,
“I hope they had a nice and productive experience. We really wanted them to feel part of the draw. For example, on Saturday, volunteers helping in the hotel had the opportunity to take a first and exclusive look behind the scenes and took part in the rehearsals for the draw, where they played the role of the draw assistants. I am sure this was a a fascinating experience for them,” she added.
One of those assisting the event was Kinga Sylwestrzak, a Polish linguistics student in Gdansk. It was Kinga’s debut as a volunteer.
“I come from Rapic, a small village not far from the city of Zielona Gora,” Kinga explained. “I came to study in Gdansk about a year and a half ago. I’d like to be a sports journalist and the Pomeranian region is a place that has lots of events and activities associated with sports clubs. That was a deciding factor when choosing somewhere to study.”
Kinga joined the action on Saturday, helping to organise a meet-and-greet session between former stars of the game and fans at a local shopping centre. Former Portuguese player Fernando Couto, Brazilian Bebeto and ex-Polish international Andrzej Juskowiak were among the names to take part.
Grzegorz Cwiklik got involved on Thursday. The 31-year-old from Gdansk works in the marketing and promotions department for the Polish Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation but admits that football is his true passion, as evidenced by his work as a coach for the last 15 years.
“Participating in the draw was a unique experience as you get to witness how these events look from the inside. You see for yourself how much work and effort goes into them, as well as how many people are needed to make sure that everything goes smoothly,” said Grzegorz.
“During the draw, I had the chance to help the accreditation department. We were the first people to meet and greet the FIFA Legends as well as artists and journalists from all over the world. In total, we handed out over 400 accreditation badges. It was a valuable experience for me before the World Cup starts, because I’ll be working with the accreditation team in Gdynia during the tournament itself."
The draw in Gdynia went without a hitch and was a success in every aspect. Many were complimentary of the excellent organisation, which was, in no small part, down to the volunteers. It’s not just the players, coaches and fans who cannot wait for the big kick-off on 23 May, but the volunteers too.