Have you signed up to volunteers?
<img class="imgl" alt="" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-408.jpg">[b]Every Belarusian knows that May bring the Ice Hockey World Championship: the most prestigious sports event to ever be hosted by our country [/b]<br />Long anticipated, advertising for the tournament is all over the capital. Organisers have been working hard to ensure that visitors will enjoy the event in every respect: with comfortable accommodation and transport, tasty local cuisine and a sample of Belarusian culture. A host of local people have been learning phrases in foreign languages, to help with communication, and the city has been beautified, to make the best impression possible.
Long anticipated, advertising for the tournament is all over the capital. Organisers have been working hard to ensure that visitors will enjoy the event in every respect: with comfortable accommodation and transport, tasty local cuisine and a sample of Belarusian culture. A host of local people have been learning phrases in foreign languages, to help with communication, and the city has been beautified, to make the best impression possible.
Competition as tough as for university places
A staggering 4,000 people applied for volunteer positions for the tournament — and more would have been forthcoming had the deadline not been set for last September. In total 1,050 volunteers have been chosen: all possessing a good command of Russian and English and with most having experience of large events. Even schoolchildren of 13 and pensioners submitted applications. Most of those chosen are under 25 — as at the Olympic Games in Sochi.
The manager of the volunteer programme, Maxim Koshkalda, tells us that there was no shortage of people willing to offer their help. Some were happy to meet their own expenses, such as driving people in their own car, filling up the tank themselves. At the Sochi Games, a few problems arose where drivers were unfamiliar with the city, relying on maps. Meanwhile, all our drivers selected know Minsk perfectly: they could drive blindfolded! Their average age is nearly 35, with all having at least two years of driving experience.
Most of our volunteers are Belarusian, although some live abroad most of the time. About 10 percent are ‘true’ foreigners: most being Russians with experience of the Olympic Games. The tiny remainder includes a Latvian, a Slovak and a Czech volunteer.
Maxim Koshkalda explains that volunteers from Western Europe tend not to speak Russian well: an essential element. He admits, “It’s simply impossible to work at the World Ice Hockey Championship without knowing the Russian language. Even the application form for volunteering was in Russian. We conducted an experiment during last year’s European Boxing Championship, held in Minsk, taking on a German girl, Yulia Schumacher, who knew a little Russian. She had the necessary skills and great desire but the language barrier rendered her diligence useless. So, we decided that fluency in Russian was an indispensable condition.”
Ready for hockey
Volunteers have been trained in theory and practice across four areas: psychology of communication (taught by the Academy of Postgraduate Education and the Belarusian State Pedagogical University named after Maxim Tank); rights and responsibilities (led by experts from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, who explained how to act in a variety of situations); language training (provided by Minsk State Linguistic University); and an information and tourist component, which covered knowledge of hockey, its history and game rules.
Practical experience was provided by volunteers going ‘on location’ — such as receiving visitors at the airport or railway station, or helping fans at the ice rinks. The Christmas hockey tournament provided valuable experience for many, as did the final national competition match between Yunost and Neman, at Chizhovka-Arena.
Volunteers are involved everywhere: during accreditation, at the press centre, in information centres, at the border, in hotels, and at the airport, railway stations and bus terminals, meeting visitors. Volunteers are also to help manage crowds of fans at the arenas and close by and, of course, there are many drivers. The most challenging and, perhaps, interesting of jobs is that of looking after a team, since these guides must accompany hockey players at all times: in their hotel, while training, at dinner and so on. They are responsible for ensuring that everything goes without a hitch and that players remain relaxed and comfortable.
Maxim Koshkalda assures us that volunteers will not be overloaded, “None of our volunteers will work more than forty hours per week. We’ve tried to plan the schedule in such a way that they have time to rest and carry out their duties at a high level.”
Volunteers gain a unique uniform with a cap, two polo shirts and a jacket, as well as money for food and travel on public transport. Those who need lodging will be provided for. Of course, 1,050 people cannot arrive simultaneously, say, at Chizhovka-Arena, for dinner, so bank cards have been given.
Question of work and studies
Of course, volunteers still have commitments to their work or studies but Mr. Koshkalda emphasises that allowances will be made, with institutes of higher education doing their best to accommodate students regarding timing of exams. Many employers view the participation of their employees as prestigious and some volunteers are simply taking some of their holiday time in May.
Yegor Zhukovsky, directing the team guides, worked as a volunteer in Poland during the 2012 European Football Championship and notes differences in volunteering in Western and Eastern Europe, saying, “In Western Europe, a lot of work is carried out by volunteers. About 80 percent of those at sports clubs are volunteers. Their work is regulated by state legislation, which denotes the concept of a ‘sports volunteer’. It’s early days for this in our country and other countries in Eastern Europe have the same problems, including lack of interest from residents. Such events as the World Championship may improve the situation.”
By Yan Zhur