World Cup preparations intensify as search for volunteers kicks into gear

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England Rugby 2015, the Organising Committee for Rugby World Cup 2015, has begun the next phase of its search for volunteers for the worldwide event next year. The 20,000 initial applicants have been sifted through, and 10,000 aspiring helpers have been invited to interview in the coming months.

The selection events, known as ‘Try Outs’ will be taking place across England and Wales in every World Cup host city between now and December, and got underway last week at Allianz Park in North London. As the home of Saracens’ self-styled ‘Wolfpack’, it seemed an appropriate location to begin the hunt for a group of volunteers who will become known as ‘The Pack’.

Debbie Jevans, CEO of England Rugby 2015 and the woman who spearheaded the hugely successful ‘Games Makers’ campaign at the London Olympics, spoke at the opening event of the influence volunteers had had on her own sporting life.

“I’ve been involved in sport since I was 11 years old, and you understand the value of the volunteer very quickly, be that a parent – my parents drove me all over the place – or when I played tennis, they were working behind the bar, or sweeping the courts, getting the leaves up,” said Jevans.

“The value of the volunteer and what they give back to sport is something that has been inherent with me forever. From the [Olympic] games, with the Games Makers, we really saw how important they were, and we want to not only emulate that but also learn from it and embrace our volunteers for 2015.”

Jevans, who oversaw the 70,000 who volunteered their time for the Olympics, says the legacy of that event, and the huge success of the Games Makers scheme, has certainly encouraged people to get involved this time around. But she is also keen to emphasise the importance of the existing rugby family.

“The fact that the Games Makers were so astounding has clearly encouraged people to volunteer. But that said, people do volunteer week in week out, and that’s why we’ve said that a big percentage of our volunteers are going to come from rugby clubs, because they get up at five in the morning and they are the ones that are making sure the clubhouse is ready, they’re coaching touch rugby, etc. We want to embrace those that have been volunteering for years.”

As the prospective volunteers shuffled through the Try Out – which was much more than merely an interview and included a room dedicated to the history of the game, as well as a passport control-style station to have photographs and identities checked – the depth of thought that had gone into the process became clear.

Just as the day was designed to be more than merely an interview, the World Cup is more than merely an extended party for existing rugby fans, but a chance to introduce the sport to new fans and grow the game – something Jevans was quick to acknowledge.

“Major events are – whatever sport – a catalyst for that opportunity [to grow the game]. The one challenge we had for the Olympic Games was that there were 26 sports, and then another 20 for the Paralympics, whereas here we are one sport, over six weeks, with a build up, and the RFU is taking advantage of that.

“The key to any growth or legacy – that word that’s so overused – is to plan it before or during the event, and the RFU are doing that.”

Back to the Try Outs, and Sarah Stephenson, an Ulster fan from Belfast, had jumped on the 7am flight that morning to get to Allianz Park in time for her slot. A seasoned volunteer, she was quick to extol the virtues of giving up your time at events like this.

“The camaraderie between the fans and the volunteers – just everyone getting together – and the enthusiasm of everyone being there to support the same thing is just great,” she said. “After the Olympics I just thought ‘I have to be involved!’”

Jevans and her team will be hoping to engender a similar sense of excitement next year.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43