There was enthusiasm by the bucketload, plenty of wide eyes and many bright smiles as the first group of 2010 FIFA World Cup™ volunteers were put through their paces this weekend.
On what was an exciting - and for some even a little emotional - day on Saturday at Durban's Riverside Hotel, the volunteers who will be assisting the local and international media at the November 25 2010 FIFA World Cup Preliminary Draw in Durban were given a taste of what to expect by FIFA and Organising Committee (OC) media staff.
In a good indication of South Africans' enthusiasm for the event, there were over 220 applications for the 25 media volunteer positions for the Preliminary Draw. The volunteers were interviewed, screened and this week officially selected for what in just over a month will be the first official FIFA event on South African soil.
The volunteers, most of whom were informed of their selection just two days earlier, soaked up the words of experienced FIFA Media Operations Manager for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Alain Leiblang, eager to take in every bit of information they could get their hands on.
Leiblang, who worked for the France 1998 Organising Committee before moving to FIFA for the 2002 and 2006 tournaments, gave some insights into the world of journalism and explained in detail what the volunteers could expect to encounter in a media centre at a major FIFA tournament.
"Volunteers are essential. Volunteers are a treasure. Without you, we are nothing. It will be hard work, but we must also have fun. Being a volunteer at a FIFA event is a pleasure, it's a great chance for you," Leiblang told the group of mainly students in the sports and media field.
In addition to the insights provided by Leiblang, FIFA Media Officer Delia Fischer, the OC's Swedish Media Operations Manager Goran Havik and Jermaine Craig and Erick de La Fuente from the OC Communications team, the volunteers were also shown videos giving them a sense of the scale of the FIFA World Cup™ and the workings of the media at the tournament.
Leiblang told the group that participating at the World Cup was everybody's dream, but that their role in the tournament would be a crucial one played behind the scenes.
"We work for and with the media. You must always bear in mind that you will work with working people. It's a big difference to those volunteers who are working with VIP's etc., who are there simply to attend the event. The World Cup is very hard for journalists. They are away from home for weeks, they have tight deadlines and work according to many different time zones. Your job will be to ensure that their working environment is as comfortable and professional as possible," said Leiblang.
Havik told the group that they had the "unique" chance of working on the first FIFA World Cup in Africa.
"Congratulations for being part of the team. We are glad that you have joined us. You are the faces of South Africa to the international media. The faces of this very unique event, the biggest in the world," said Havik.
For 27-year-old Sibongiseni Mbambo, who will head the group of media volunteers, the experience he is about to embark on is one that will remain with him forever.
"For me this means history. It means the greatest treasure money can't buy. Out of that treasure, my family will benefit, my friends will benefit, my community will benefit. It is something no-one can take away from me. The 2010 FIFA World Cup will mean more unity for South Africans, more tolerance and understanding of other cultures. And for us volunteers, it will be a chance to extend that proudly South African at heart spirit we know we all have," said Mbambo, who is a local marketing and events manager.
For 26-year-old Benina Mkhonto, being a media volunteer also means a great deal.
"I will gain a lot of experience and I hope the experience will improve my leadership skills. I need to be thoroughly equipped to assist anybody who needs my assistance. And I will do it with a joyful and cheerful smile and be at my best at all times," said Mkhonto, a 26-year-old Sports Science Honours student at the University of Kwazulu-Natal.
Young heads, but wise words indeed.