Going to a large international tournament where your country is participating is the dream of any football fan. Sofia Sada from Monterrey sent in her application to be a volunteer at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 precisely because Mexico were one of the competing teams at the tournament of champions.
“From the Pele signature my father got for me before I was born, to playing throughout my formative years, I've lived and breathed football all my life,” the 26-year-old revealed.
Of course, Sofia has not only got her eyes on the Confederations Cup but the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ the following summer as well. “I've never been to a World Cup before and that would be exciting enough,” she added. “However, to be part of it, to work as a volunteer, would be even more memorable.”
Sofia is just one of more than 110,000 people who have expressed an interest in being a volunteer at the two upcoming major tournaments in Russia. Thousands of volunteers from the host country itself and all over the world will assist organisers and participants at the FIFA Confederations Cup and FIFA World Cup. So far, foreign candidates account for 30 per cent of applications.
Sofia already has volunteering experience at Formula 1 races but views this as a great chance to get acquainted with a fascinating, faraway nation. “Russia is one of the countries that most interests me: its cities and their rich history are things I can't get enough of. For me, it's an opportunity to learn about Russian culture as well as a bit of the language. I hope to gather many experiences and memories, while getting to meet people from all over the world.”
On 1 June, the Russia 2018 Local Organising Committee and FIFA began to accept volunteer applications for the two competitions. In three-and-a-half months, they have received requests from 186 countries.
For some of the 15,000-strong volunteering team at the World Cup, it will be their first experience in this kind of role. However, Rob Asperheim from the USA, on the other hand, is a veteran of the volunteer movement.
I volunteer because it continuously teaches me something new about people, about co-operation, about compassion and about myself.
“If selected for the World Cup or Confederations Cup, this will be my fifth sports volunteer experience in Russia,” explained the 38-year-old from Virginia. He first visited the country in August 2013 to help out with an ice sledge hockey test event ahead of the Sochi Paralympic Games. Rob then returned as a volunteer for the Winter Olympics themselves, the Russia 2018 Preliminary Draw in Saint Petersburg, as well as the Ice Hockey World Championship in the same city.
“I am asked a lot why I am willing to travel 6,000 km at my own expense to a foreign country just so that I can volunteer,” Rob continued. “I usually tell them that I volunteer because it continuously teaches me something new about people, about co-operation, about compassion and about myself. In helping others, I am reminded that we are all in this together and we need to remember to support each other. Life has so much to offer if we remember look beyond ourselves. I also volunteer because it lets me get involved in a new city or country in a way I would never get to if I were just passing through as a traveller for a few days.”
Mexico and the USA both produced a particularly large number of applications, but a many also arrived from China. Prospective volunteer Chong Zhang recently helped out at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou. “China made it to the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan for the first time in Chinese history and that was the first time I'd heard of the World Cup,” recalled 26-year-old Chong. “I became a football fan in 2006 after the World Cup in Germany.”
Since then football has taken a firm hold on his life: he watches matches, reads football magazines, plays video games and, of course, plays the sport with his university friends. Chong is brimming with excitement at the prospect of the World Cup in Russia and his involvement in it.
“I cannot wait to help Russia hold a successful World Cup,” he said. “I want to share this beautiful game with visitors from all around the world, feel the passion of the football and remember what I felt when playing at university once more.”
The interview process with volunteer candidates began in September, but candidates have until the end of the year to send their application in to FIFA.com/volunteers.