The flood lights were beaming on the pitch. The referee looked at his watch and blew the whistle one final time. Spain erupted with jubilation– they had snatched a win from Mali to reach the finals for the first FIFA U-17 World Cup hosted by India. While it was just another day in office for the teams, it wasn’t so for a particular group- the first volunteers for the FIFA Cup held in India. For them, it was the end of a beautiful journey which had made them a part of history.
A year has passed since the historic U-17 FIFA World Cup was hosted by India, but the memories of being a part of the first volunteer team are so vivid, it feels like it happened yesterday.
For me, it started with the 2006 FIFA World Cup, when Zidane was infamously sent off court in the final. After waiting for 11 excruciating years, I was finally able to not only witness a World Cup match live, but also got the opportunity to be a volunteer, or as FIFA’ website claimed– be the heartbeat and backbone of FIFA’s third most important event.
It was a long road for me, from applying in December 2016, to being screen tested in April 2017, to being run as a trail volunteer in the official draw of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in June, and finally being selected as a volunteer for the World Cup in October. Be it being shortlisted from over 3000 applicants in Mumbai, or being part of the ‘lucky 20’– the people chosen for the heavily sought-after ‘Competitions Management’, one of FIFA Volunteering’s 14 departments—it was a proud moment for me. But this wasn’t the only perk; with a global event, comes global sponsorship. This meant all volunteers got customized Adidas kits for the FIFA U-17 World Cup India.
Sporting Adidas shoes with volunteer T-Shirts and FIFA accreditations around our necks was a thrill by itself, and they are now souvenirs that will always bring back unforgettable memories.
As competition management volunteers, our brief was to look after the teams like our guests: “Atithi Devo Bhava”, to be precise. We had to be with them during training sessions and the days of their matches, assisting them with anything and everything they needed. This included ensuring that the bathrooms were clean, the ACs were working and the dressing rooms were well lit. Before the matches, we would carry ice sacks to the dressing rooms for the players’ ice-bath.
All of this was done with the hope of making India recognizable as a sporting nation on a global level, to redeem it after the disaster that was the Commonwealth Games of 2010.
The DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai was slated to host matches for Group B—consisting of New Zealand, Paraguay, Mali and Turkey– along with a ‘Round of 16 match’ and a semi-final. Being with the teams was a feeling different from everything I have ever experienced; focused but inexperienced New Zealand, tactically strong Paraguay, Turkey’s underdogs, and two-time champions Mali, made a dream group for some of the best matches played.
Having a role on the training site, the ‘Lucky 20’ would become football pundits, predicting the precise outcome of every match before it could finish.
And as they say, all is well that ends well; with the highest ever recorded audience of 1.3 million viewers for the FIFA U17 World Cup, India left a mark on the world, and proved itself as a sporting nation. To put the cherry on the cake, is also rumoured that India will bid for the FIFA U-20 World Cup this year.
Picture Credits : easports.com