Meet some of the Indians who are on the dream field as part of FIFA’s volunteer programme in Brazil

It’s quite a heady combination — a spirited game and a vibrant country. Push back shots of cachaça, do the samba, get a tan, and go to work — in this case, not a desk-bound routine but the exciting volunteer programme with FIFA.

Apart from numerous Brazilians, FIFA has drawn volunteers from across the globe to help host the World Cup in 12 cities. According to the LOC Communications Department (Local Organising Committee), they received a record 1,52,101 submissions during the application phase between August 2012 and October 2013. FIFA shortlisted 14,000.

While the highest number of volunteers is from Colombia (130), followed by France (82) and the U.S. (81), India hasn’t done too badly with 16 representatives this year. The volunteers work in areas such as transport, media, safety, protocol, the medical department, team services, and fan services.

Vikas Srinivasan, 35, a senior category manager in Oracle, Bangalore, one of the volunteers at Porto Alegre, found out about the programme through the FIFA website. Now at the venue, he is in charge of handling transportation for players, VVIPs and VIPs, referees, FIFA and LOC staff, media and traffic management inside the stadium, including parking. “I applied online in September 2012. The selection process ran to several pages requiring personal details, questions like why you want to become a volunteer, previous volunteer and work experience, uniform sizes…We had interviews on Skype and training sessions online,” he says. Vikas had to undergo more training once he reached the venue. “Presentations and a guided tour of the stadium were part of the agenda, including a fun day at the stadium for all the volunteers,” he adds.

 Twenty-one-year-old Rahul Tikiya, a football enthusiast, had been nursing hopes of making it as a volunteer ever since he saw one being interviewed during the World Cup in South Africa. “The idea of being involved in the biggest event in the world left me awestruck, and I promptly applied for the 2014 World Cup,” says Rahul, head of operations at Doodle Creatives, a Mumbai-based start-up, and also a football writer online. He’s been assigned the position of a Competition Services Assistant. “My role revolves around the teams playing at Porto Alegre (teams such as France, Argentina, Netherlands and Germany). I am stationed at the Estadio Beira Rio, and I help organise dressing rooms, the tunnel, the substitutes’ benches, and most importantly, the pitch. I have to also assist in ensuring that the hotels where the teams are put up are secure and preparations are on time,” he says and adds, “I was given a list of rules. As my duty involves being in constant contact with the players I have to make them feel comfortable. I cannot afford to be star-struck when I face them.”

Prateek Kumar Bharadwaj, from Bhopal, joined the party a little late, owing to visa issues. It’s finally cleared and he’s in Brazil…a country he’s always dreamt of travelling to. “My duty is that of an airport transport volunteer in Rio de Janeiro. It involves receiving VIPs and celebrities at the airport and bringing them to hotels,” he says.

A typical shift lasts around eight to nine hours. In between, the volunteers break for lunch and snacks, and also entertain themselves with play stations, foosball, air hockey, table tennis or just sit back and watch the matches on giant screens in the volunteer centre. A lot of socialising happens post work where they meet helpers from different countries.

 Hobnobbing with celebs is an integral part of their duty. “I did see a few stars from the French football team, and it was a surreal experience,” says 25-year-old-Ankit Bellani, who works with 22 Feet Tribal Worldwide, a marketing agency. The programme has its perks but there are times when they are expected to put in more than five days of work. “I work five days a week, plus match days, if they fall on weekends,” he says. But none of them minds the extra work. “It’s all for the love of the game,” adds Vikas. Such is the lure of the sport that Ankit is certain that this isn’t the last time they are volunteering.

Being part of such a mammoth event, has been an overwhelming experience for these volunteers. While they cherish every moment at FIFA what they are extremely proud of is their uniform — turquoise blue with streaks of fluorescent green. It is this jersey that sets them apart from the gazillions of other football fans.