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The red-shirted Cricketeer is more than just a volunteer

Wisden India logo Wisden India 17-07-2017 Sidhanta Patnaik

Taunton: Live stream feed for a match is unavailable on laptops. An elderly man in a red t-shirt offers his i-pad as a solution.

Leicester: A few men in red t-shirts brave the chilly and windy weather to manually cover the advertising hoardings below the sightscreen before the start of an over from their end. 

Derby: The dining area for commentators and journalists is about to close. A lady in a red t-shirt urges those interested in an extra helping of chocolate cake to hurry up.

Bristol: A group of middle-aged men and women in red t-shirts assist school kids in carrying the flags of the countries to the ground for the national anthem.

All venues: You need help? A person wearing a Cricketeers branded red t-shirt nearest to you will have the answer. To quote National Rail’s security campaign in the United Kingdom: “See it. Say it. Sorted.”

“One thing that we want to make clear to the volunteers and everyone else is that volunteers add the X factor. They help. They don’t do jobs; they enhance them.”

A total of 1300 unseen faces are the foot soldiers of a very successful summer of 2017 for the England and Wales Cricket Board and the International Cricket Council. Their civility and effectiveness have allowed the Champions Trophy and the Women’s World Cup, which concludes on July 23, to leave an indelible mark on the landscape of cricket event management.

“One thing that we want to make clear to the volunteers and everyone else is that volunteers add the X factor,” says Katie Lister, the ECB’s volunteer executive responsible for his extensive mass mobilisation across eight venues over two months. “They help. They don’t do jobs; they enhance them. Quite a lot of them have been a part of both the events.”

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They are the one-percenters battalion divided under six departments:

  • Accreditation
  • Event and sponsors activation
  • Hospitality
  • Media
  • Spectator services
  • Transport

They facilitate without being intrusive. Their operation has been so seamless that the players have hardly marked them.

“I didn’t notice. Sorry,” Stafanie Taylor responded, almost apologetic, on being asked if she had seen the volunteers in red t-shirts. “That’s actually good. Knowing that now, if someone wants a Stafanie Taylor jersey, then I can give it to them.”

Taylor’s gesture was like a thank you note from the cricketers to the Cricketeers at the very end of a long summer.***

People from all walks of life have invested time to contribute their bit in making the English summer a memorable one.

Pradyuna Tripathy, a product manager in his day job, joined the programme because of his passion for the game and a desire to be helpful. For Holly Stow, a 20-year-old girl who will graduate with an events management degree from Coventry University next year, it was an opportunity to implement classroom learning on the field.

Sur Rister is the competition officer for recreational game mainly for girls at the ECB, but ventured into volunteering because she “had not done something like this before.”

Desmond Bonser, an accountant and a volunteer for 40 years, has taken a vacation to guide people at the ground entrance. He says: “You take up challenges. That’s why you volunteer. Nobody is forcing you to be a volunteer. Sunny day or rainy day, you do it and smile.”

“In the mornings, we are the friendly face that welcomes everyone. Through the day, we answer any queries to make sure everyone is happy. And, then we are the final face people see while they leave.”

Trish Bateman’s love for sports has taken her to many events as a volunteer for the past seven years. David Cox opted to be with media because his day job is in marketing and public relations, and he has “some idea of what journalists and photographers need.” David Umye, who works with the Railways and was a transport volunteer at the 2012 London Olympics, chose the media for the Women’s World Cup because he has worked in the cricket media space in Scotland in the past. Janet Smedley and her husband, both retired, are happy to navigate cars to the parking area because they “wanted to represent Derby.”

The selection process was intense. The ECB activated their grassroots network and also advertised on general volunteering portals for those above 18 years of age old to fill an online application form. They could choose the tournament and number of matches they were available for. Applications were accepted till January 16, 2017. After that, the candidates were called for an interview where they were given team activities.

Neil Brown, who now runs two leisure centres, has in the past worked for Wendy Watson, part of the England team that won the 1993 Women’s World Cup. He was a volunteer at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and needed his wife’s approval to take leave for the Women’s World Cup. His group was given material like balloon string, cello-tape and scissors. They had to lift one member of their team from the floor using those resources. So, they made a bed with balloons and got the person to lie on it without bursting them.The judges observed the aptitude and attitude of the participants, and the result was intimated over email. After database and police verification, the selected candidates underwent a training regimen based on the department they were assigned to. The ECB provided them with a mini-kit consisting of a branded red t-shirt, a jacket, and a cap.

They are briefed specifically on security, weather, catering, ticketing, VIP movement, health and safety measures, and other details based on the profile of the game, on the morning of the match before starting thier duty.

“We judged a candidate purely based on what we thought the attributes were for a role, and who fit the roles best,” says Richard Lightbrown, ECB’s Club Support Executive handling the Derby leg for the Women’s World Cup. “Someone like Holly might not have a lot of experience, but is really fantastically enthusiastic about what she does. It’s the kind of young volunteer that we want. Whereas some older volunteers from local cricket clubs who know what’s going on in Derby will be able to give people information about scores and where to visit. So, there is that whole balance we need to work out.”

Handling such a large team is no mean task. So, under the watch of ECB staff, groups are assigned leads for easier accountability. The volume is so big that there is always scope for something to go wrong. This is where the ECB’s coordination with all venues becomes critical. From taking care of the basic needs of the volunteers to ensuring their tasks are intelligently stimulating, every element adds up to the smooth functioning of the engine.

“It’s important to make people feel welcome and valued because it is a volunteer basis,” Rister, who has an understanding of both sides of the coin, elaborates. “They are putting in a lot of work and effort into travelling here to start with, and spending their time here. Obviously you have to value that commitment. The passion for the game is why people volunteer in the first place. Derbyshire have been excellent, really looked after us and valued our commitment. Before the tournament, our training was very good, we had our kit and it was well organised. So it makes you feel valued and an important part of the day.”

Volunteers are expected to transfer their happiness quotient to all the stakeholders of the tournament.“In the mornings, we are the friendly face that welcomes everyone. Through the day, we answer any queries to make sure everyone is happy. And, then we are the final face people see while they leave. We wish them a good journey home,” Stow, a team lead for spectator service, elaborates her role. “It’s challenging when there are a lot of people coming in through the gate. Quite a lot of people travel from far away. The commitment that some of them give to these tournaments, staying with friends (overnight), they are still happy and smiling all day long like those who have probably only travelled 20 minutes. I find that really, really committed.”

***

As per a survey by Sport England in 2002, a total of 2,012,659 volunteers were involved in sporting activities in the United Kingdom that year. Almost 75% of them were at the local level, indicating the deep-rooted culture of volunteering in the country. The numbers, however, fell over the next seven years because 15% of local clubs were shut down.

“I have always had the view that when I first started playing, people organised fixtures, raised the money for training and you just turned up for your match. This all happened around you,” Rister, now the president of her local sports club, explains the culture of volunteering. “As you become a bit older, you appreciate the input people have given, and you help put something back into the game for other people to benefit. If people were not prepared to do that, there wouldn’t be any recreational sport.”

“In the mornings, we are the friendly face that welcomes everyone. Through the day, we answer any queries to make sure everyone is happy. And, then we are the final face people see while they leave.”

The ECB embraced the idea completely for the first time during the 2009 World Twenty20 for both men and women, where they recruited 1000 volunteers through the ‘VisionTwenty20’ drive. Kevin Pietersen was one of the many high-profile cricketers to highlight the history of volunteering in the United Kingdom. Steve Elworthy, in his first global assignment for the ECB, had called each volunteer “an information point.”

The 2012 Olympics and Paralympics also played a massive role in reviving the volunteering culture. The volunteers were branded as ‘Gamesmakers’ and it was covered positively in the media.

“I would not say volunteering was not there earlier, but that was the first time there was a mass volunteer programme and it was very high profile. They realised that if London had to be the best until that point, they needed to look at the experiences of all previous games and World Cups of all sports,” Cox, who was living in London then, says. “That is almost a legacy now of the London Olympics – bringing that professionalism into all sports even at a lower level and global events. It caught the imagination of the people across the country. So, the subsequent big and small events have found people willing to be volunteers because they want to make the events successful.”Drawing inspiration from this high wave, Ally Jarvis, ECB’s volunteers manager for global events to whom Lister and Lightbrown report, rebranded their volunteering wing to ‘Cricketeers’. Lightbrown believes the ECB had cracked the code independent of the Olympics' success.

“We started in 2009, and that solidified things. That was before 2012 (Olympics) when everybody understood the impact that the volunteers could have on the game,” Lightbrown states. “Cricket was already aware of it. So, cricket was slightly ahead of the curve.”

One of the reasons why volunteering is a big social capital generation exercise here as compared to Asia is because of the value it adds to the resume.

The ECB embraced the idea (of volunteers) completely for the first time during the 2009 World Twenty20 for both men and women, where they recruited 1000 volunteers through the ‘VisionTwenty20’ drive.

“When applying for jobs, they don’t look at just academics (like in India),” Tripathy, who is originally from Uttar Pradesh, opens up. “They look for what you did outside studies. When I interview people, we look at that extra element. Are you a team player, have you done anything for the team – that is what they ask. That’s why people are encouraged to do these activities and complete their profile.”

As the Champions Trophy and Women’s World Cup have shown, the reasons for volunteering are many. It is the intent and willingness to serve selflessly that differentiates a good event from a lifelong experience.

“I would not say that I have seen anything as a challenge,” Cox says. “I have seen everything as an opportunity to learn new things. I think if you have the right attitude, you want to learn, you want to be positive and you want to try and help.”

England has laid out the blueprint for other countries to follow in creating lifelong experiences.

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