All eyes will be on Russia for the next one month as it hosts the FIFA World Cup for the very first time. Irrespective of its own on-field performance, its goal will be to ensure a smooth and hitch-free tournament. To make that happen, the Local Organising Committee (LOC) has picked 17,040 volunteers — nearly 2,000 more than Brazil 2014 — from 112 countries. Among them will be 31 volunteers of Indian origin, 23 men and eight women, who will be performing 10 different volunteer functions across as many host cities.
Richik Sengupta, from spectator services, will be among the volunteers who will be see in action when the tournament kicks-off at the Luzniki Stadium in Moscow on June 14. Richik’s function would involve tending to the requests of spectators, guiding them to their seats and requesting prompt medical help if needed and ensuring that they take home a memorable experience. The 25-year-old is a resident Russian whose family belongs to West Bengal. Pursuing his PhD in Mathematics, his entire education is funded by the Russia State.
Mithila Phatak, 20, is eager to make the most of her experience. She will be based in Nizhny Novgorod, and will be involved in spectator service to Argentinians, English and Swedish fans, among others. “It is important to understand that even though this is our work for the duration of the World Cup, for them it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere and their favourite sport, live,” says Mithila, who moved from Pune in 2015 to pursue a Doctor of Medicine (DM) degree. She is keen on coming face-to-face with the national teams of Argentina and England but is aware that she will need to fight her urge to take out her notebooks or phone in their presence, while on duty.
Another medical student from Nizhny, Vishwanath Iyer, will also need to exercise similar restraint when he is amidst the famous names he grew up watching.
An ardent Arsenal supporter, he will be working as a chaperone for the medical and doping control teams during the matches. For him, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity which he couldn’t reject. “I have my eyes on the Argentina game (June 21). Earlier this year, I managed to watch Lionel Messi in the flesh during a Copa del Rey match against Valencia during my vacation in Spain. I realised that watching him live is completely different from watching him on TV,” says the 24-year-old.
Most modern-day footballers have shown their displeasure towards random drug-testing, right after a game. But Vishwanath says his background in medicine could help the footballers feel comfortable in such situations. “That’s where our job comes in. They might be happier to talk to a medical person rather than an officer,” he says.
In the unlikely event of a superstar like Messi being called in for a test, Vishwanath says, “We are not allowed to ask for autographs or photos. I might just stand and stare at him.”
Volunteering can be a thankless job, with long hours and no pay. Volunteers also stand little chance of watching the matches. However, they view it as a way of showing their gratitude towards Russia and the sport that they love, and are looking forward to it with great enthusiasm.
Richik, who also volunteered during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, says, “It is more about wanting to do (something) for the place you are in. It’s compulsory for Russian citizens to enlist in the Army for a year. I didn’t have to, as I hold an Indian passport. I wanted to do something for the country and volunteering is one way of giving back.”
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