Saint Petersburg (AFP) – They aren’t big fans of football, but Viktoria, Roman and Valeria are ready to spend a month of their time helping visitors attending the World Cup in Russia.
“Of course the World Cup is an enormous, important event, but for me personally it is more about helping people. That’s the reason I became a volunteer,” said economics student Viktoria Astanina.
The 22-year-old and her friends are among the 3,500 volunteers recruited in St Petersburg alone for the June 14-July 15 tournament.
The numbers swell to more than 15,000 across the 11 Russian cities hosting matches at football’s showpiece event.
Volunteers will help visitors find their way around and be stationed at airports, train stations and main tourist spots.
A native of the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, Viktoria will be a team leader at the fan zone in Saint Petersburg.
“I’ll have to coordinate the other volunteers as there are lots of events planned at the fan zone,” she said.
Roman Goncharov, 20, who is training to become a police officer, will be in one of the rail stations. He likes sports, but as with Viktoria, admits to not being a huge football fan.
“It is a good opportunity to help out at a historical event,” he said. “I like to be involved, it is very inspiring.”
Valeria Volkova, the youngest of the group at 18, said volunteering has become a way of life for her.
“I’ve done it for a long time. It was a friend who suggested that I volunteer for the World Cup,” she said.
“I said to myself that it is an ideal activity for me. I like helping people, I like meeting new people, making new friends and I love our city.”
– Not all accepted –
The smiling, helpful volunteers were well appreciated by visitors to the Confederations Cup last year, which served as a trial run for the much larger World Cup.
Their ability to speak English, which isn’t a given in many smaller Russian cities, was particularly helpful to visitors unfamiliar with both the language and Cyrillic script.
Recruitment began in 2016 and Yekaterina Stolytsina, training coordinator in St Petersburg, said they sought talkative, responsible volunteers who could handle stress and work well in a team.
“It was serious, we were selected out of many others,” said Valeria.
According to figures provided by organisers, only one in ten people who applied were accepted.
Those who made it were give a choice of where to work, then attended courses to learn their jobs.
“Some people weren’t accepted, for example if they had trouble communicating,” said Stolytsina.
This wasn’t the case for Viktoria, Roman and Valeria, who are full of excitement with only days to go to opening match.
“It’s going to be great, I’m sure,” said Valeria.