Official website of 16th FINA World Championships 2015 in Kazan
16th FINA World Championships

July 24 - August 9, 2015

Alexander Karpov: We need to let everyone know about volunteers' good deeds

18.07.2015, 17:00 Interviews
In his interview with the Press Office of the Kazan 2015 Organising Committee, Deputy Director General of the Executive Directorate for Sports Projects, Alexander Karpov, who is responsible for supervising the volunteer programme, explained why elderly people are usually eager to be volunteers on such events and also commented on whether it is easy or not to find Chinese speaking volunteers.

Kazan 2015 volunteer selection remotely resembled the admission to Moscow State University

 – How many volunteers will be engaged into the 16th FINA World Championships and Masters tournament?

– According to the programme that had been approved by FINA at the beginning of 2014, 2,500 volunteers are supposed to be engaged into the 16th FINA World Championships and Masters tournament. We hope a lot they are going to make our visitors feel comfortable and welcomed in Kazan.

– Kazan 2015 is characterised by a record number of sports events, a large number of spectators and TV viewers is expected. Are you about to set a new record regarding the quantity of volunteers?

– What for? I guess there is no necessity in that. The record breaking itself is essential with adequate reason. Even if we’d involved 5,000 volunteers, half of them would’ve had nothing to do at all whereas we would have spent pretty much money on motivating, training and feeding them. Imagine, there is a highly motivated volunteer who is sort of obsessed, in a good sense, with everything they do, as the result everyone seems to catch up with these positive emotions. However, if this very volunteer, for instance, keeps waiting for any kind of task 24/7 it will cause absolutely the opposite results, moreover, with us paying for all of it. It’s definitely not what we are looking for!

– Volunteer selection was said to be as strict as university’s admissions. According to the statistics how many people laid claim to the place in a volunteer team?

– As they say there is no smoke without fire and if people say so then they might be right (smiles). This selection has been quite tough. To make the situation clear let’s look through the positions of 2,500 shortlisted volunteers. The first group of volunteers consists of 540 non-local representatives from 20 regions of Russia. Dividing this number easily we can see that 25 volunteers, no more, no less, were recommended from each region. The second stage of getting into a volunteer team was to pass at-the-local-level tests with 30 candidates per place. Don’t you find it resembling the admission to Moscow State University?

In comparison with local volunteers i.e. Kazan citizens, there were about 12 candidates for one vacant position. 23,927 application forms were submitted by residents of the Rpublic of Tatarstan and only 2,000 were selected. This stirred interest does nothing but make us happy showing that the continuity of generations within the volunteer movement that we've initiated in 2009 is still up to date.

– Can you give us an example please?

– Starting from last year we had been facing candidates who just turned 18 or were about to come of age. In the case of the Universiade they were close observers not the participants because according to the law, being only 16, they were not allowed to take part in the event. And today, considering all the skills, experience and impressions gained by other volunteers 2 years ago during the past global event; these very teenagers were among the first ones to apply to become volunteers.

– By the way, what were the selection criteria?

– In the course of the Universiade there have been established 5 criteria of volunteer selection, which are also applied at the Championships. The first thing we are interested in is motivation. If a candidate is clear in their own mind and very keen on working with us then we’ll take a close interest in them. Unlike the Universiade time the next criterion ranks second instead of the fifth. Candidates with the high level of spoken English or any other foreign languages were more privileged than the ones with simply basic knowledge. There are 10 times fewer volunteers in our team today at the Championships that’s why we decided to work with people who can easily speak any foreign language. After all, it’s been FINA’s requirement.


Kazan students realise that learning foreign languages today will pay them back in the future

– Are local volunteers all linguists?

– Non-local volunteers are, as the selection with 30 candidates per place gathered people speaking different foreign languages. Undoubtedly, students from the Republic of Tatarstan are aware of all perspectives they can get from learning foreign languages. Kazan Federal University’s assistance was also very important especially providing us with eastern group of languages (Arabic,Turkish). However, we’ve also come across some students whose major is far from linguistics but they are still learning foreign languages, for example Spanish.

– At International Water Polo Tournament I’ve been pleasantly surprised to have a chance to work with a bilingual attaché who speaks both Chinese and Russian perfectly. Was it difficult to find someone like this?

– It was not that easy! When we talk about Chinese speakers here in Kazan, we mean not a hundred people but tens or even individuals who are of great value for us. We are lucky to have a large number of foreigners here who have a permission for education in our country and have already become part of our society. Chinese volunteer you’ve been talking about is one of them. We seem to have a pretty international team because not only acknowledged foreign students decided to volunteer at the Championships but also university and public organisation representatives from 11 countries confirmed their participation as volunteers in a written form.

– What about the last three criteria?

– The third one is stress resistance. We are expected to work the whole month starting from the day athletes arrive in Kazan. We are to host two major sporting events in a row – the 16th FINA World Championships and for the first time in history - Masters tournament. And our volunteer team is supposed to be engaged in both events. With a large amount of people coming to Kazan our volunteers should definitely be stress-resistant.

– And now the third criterion is also clear, let’s move on...

– Teamwork. There are individualists who live according to their own rules. We don’t need people like that by default because being a volunteer means being a team. You can only be a success in a team. Individualists do not belong here. The last but not least criterion on the list is communication skills. When you start talking with a person, you immediately understand if you like him or her or not. That’s why we evaluate how a candidate can interact and make a good impression.

– Well, experience at the Universiade or Olympic Games was not obligatory for the volunteer, wasn’t it?

– If we had stuck to this requirement, we would have recruited the same volunteers. On the one hand, it is good. These boys and girls are experienced, so you can trust them and rely on them. You can gather them on the eve of the tournament and let them get started even without any instructions or training. But then no next generation will come. Such a process is hard to overestimate. People who have once tried volunteering  turn out to be more competitive, more communicative than the rest of their peers with no such experience. Volunteering is not taught at school or institute, it only comes with practice. For example, large companies have recruited our former attaché and are lucky to have them on their team. One may say employers even headhunt them. They are already skilled professionals requiring no investment.

– Is there a big share of newcomers eventually?

– I guess I won’t be mistaken to say that every third volunteer of the Championships is a newcomer. Life goes on and volunteering is now recognised as some personal start-up when you gain most in-demand competencies. Consider we are a full-cycle human resources academy (smiles). Those who went through the Universiade are activists in the youth policy. I sometimes happen to browse in social networks when I come across the same faces, but they are nice and familiar to us (smiles).


No volunteer works nights

– As far as I understand, the volunteers take different jobs. What positions have you selected them for?

– As usual, we ran a selection process for four positions. First, a generalist volunteer. To find yourself in this pool, you are enough to have a set of five competencies. Obviously, that’s a bulk of volunteers. In contrast, a ‘field of play volunteer’ is a specific position. You are required to represent a sports school or federation of the aquatics discipline for which you are applying. What we can do is to teach how to be a volunteer, but to share that knowledge and skills of each discipline is much more difficult than a sports school can do. A beginner athlete is absolutely highly motivated to be awarded this position because a young person will not miss a unique opportunity to make contact with the stars of this sports discipline they personally have just been making baby steps in. A childhood dream. I must say there was a strict selection process for these positions.

There’s one more group of volunteers, so called ‘specialist volunteers’. They should have a set of specific skills as well. For example, it makes sense that all medical services volunteers, with no exception, are required to have respective education. Basically, we recruit no younger than third-year students when they have already decided on their major. The same principle is applied to volunteers who have to do with foreign languages (interpreters, information desk attendants). Their level of language skills should be highest.

Similar standards are also used with regard to one of the most popular positions – 'team attaché'. Despite being very complex, demanding and important, it is surprisingly a hit with the volunteers. Just imagine a volunteer’s shift must not be over than 6 hours a day but only a team attaché is assigned to the team for an entire day. They start their work early in the morning and leave for home late in the night when a coach or a head of delegation dismisses them. They serve as intermediaries between wants and wishes of a big team, where you can quite often meet capricious members, and the rest of the world. Thus, from the moment of arrival to the moment of departure, a team attaché is always in contact with his or her team. Always, except for nights.

– Do they spend nights at home, after all?

-Yes, sure. No volunteer takes night shifts! Otherwise, it violates principles of volunteering. Exclusions? Maybe those who meet and greet teams at the airport because most flights come at night.

We are not afriad to entrust silver age volunteers with people’s fates

– Why so much fuss about team attaché positions?

– My guess is lack of language practice with native speakers is the fault. You should agree there’s a big difference between communication with a person who is born with the language and who started learning it at school. They think differently as far as the language is concerned. An opportunity to make international friends plays its role here, as well. To be honest, there's only one reason why candidates may refuse to become an attaché, it's an 18-hour shift. Nevertheless, people are ready to work three shifts in a row just to be closer to any of the teams. There’s some obvious paradox here, isn’t there?

– We forgot about the fourth group of volunteers. Who are they?

– City volunteers. I think you remember that during the Universiade we had schoolchildren in bright uniforms who collected votes in favour of Team Russia by outlining palms. We decided to continue this practice at the Kazan 2015 World Championships. Eleven city volunteer booths will be located around the competition venues or promenade areas.

– In what areas will silver age volunteers be engaged in?

– It’s remarkable when elderly people are engaged in volunteering. We are happy that silver age volunteers have made a positive impact on its image. St.Petersburg gave birth to the movement itself. An initiative group of elderly women there started not only to participate in different events, but established NGO Silver Age Volunteers. This theme has developed and now we can positively say that maturity and background of elderly people who already have some experience behind their back alongside with creativity and ambitions of the young makes a solid symbiosis. Interestingly, we have faced no generation conflicts. Just the other way round, young people treat silver age volunteers with respect.

– What are the strengths of silver age volunteers?

- Silver age volunteers are very assiduous and focused. You can entrust them even with the most meticulous work. For example, during the Universiade they were handling candidates’ data and kept a database. This work required serious commitment because an error could cost someone a spot in a volunteer team. In a manner of speaking, these elderly ladies held people’s fates in their hands.

– Weren’t you afraid to entrust them with people’s fates?

– No, we weren’t. There were always young employees working with them. We’ve been forming such unions of experience and youthfulness deliberately, so that they could complement each other’s strong and weak points. But after the Universiadse we realised that there was no need to babysit our silver age volunteers as they approached their work in all seriousness. This time we assigned them to medal ceremony positions. I think that nobody will be better than them in setting trays and laying out medals and flowers.

– What is the motivation for such volunteers?

– They say that by taking part in such tournaments they go back to their youth and find a new lease of life. Volunteer movement allows retired people to get rid of apathy and soak themselves into an atmosphere of warmth, love and care. And after understanding all this, they rush to the Volunteer Recruitment Centre an hour before its opening and take first places in the queue. And by telling all this during interviews, silver age volunteers inspire us, who are young, with their love for life; it’s hard for me to put these feeling into words.


Since volunteers don’t get paid, they should not spend any money either

– What benefits will be provided to volunteers?

– Uniform is part of the motivation programme. For the duration of the Championships, volunteers will be granted with something that others will not get. It’s not any ordinary sportswear, it’s limited edition. You won’t be able to find it at any store; it’s not for sale. It’s a unique thing, a souvenir!

Volunteers are also provided with hot full-course meals. They will be supplied by the Kazan Food Production Facility. All volunteer headquarters will be equipped with microwave ovens for volunteers to heat their meals in disposable boxes. There will be a regular full course meal; non-local volunteers will also be provided with breakfast and dinner.

– So what you mean to say is that volunteers’ needs will be fully covered by the Organising Committee?

– Since volunteers don’t get paid, they should not spend any money either. To ensure that, we will also provide volunteers with free travel on public transport. We will give them transport cards charged with the amount that a little exceeds the number of rides to a venue and back. How many rides? 54 rides for the duration of the World Championships. It should be more than enough.  

– Don’t you think that it was easier to just warn bus conductors that during the Championships volunteers can travel on buses free of charge upon presentation of their accreditation badges?

– Let’s admit that we’ve already tried it during the Universiade and unfortunately had to face drivers and conductors’ indifference and lack of understanding. Neither the organisers nor the mayor’s office was to be blamed; it was just a human factor. But we’ve learned our lessons and now there is no risk of non-payment. Volunteers will pay for their travel but not out of their own pockets. I think that this option will be acceptable for all parties.

– Will there be any goodbye party for volunteers?

– No, we do not prepare any goodbye party for volunteers. But keep in mind that non-local volunteers will stay at the Athletes’ Village and every evening there will always be an extensive entertainment programme. And it will also be available for volunteers. Therefore, they can have their own parties. Of course I understand that there’s no fun without parties. It’s also part of the motivation programme and during their interviews volunteers admitted that it was one of the benefits of volunteering. According to our plan, on one of the days when the FINA World Championships will be coming to a close and the FINA World Masters Championships kick off we will dedicate a full entertainment programme to volunteers at the FINA Water World Park. All of this is notwithstanding daily volunteer social gatherings that will be held at the same place, at the FINA Water World Park. There, in the presence of all visitors, we will announce volunteers of this or that venue who excelled in their roles and present them with special gifts.

Every evening we will award best volunteers at the FINA Water World Park

– But how will you determine best volunteers? It’s quite simple in sports: the one who finishes first, takes gold. There is no competitive aspect here.  

– Let’s take a look at volunteers’ one-day routine. They arrive at the venue, they are not late. Plus one point for their charisma (smiles). They fulfill all their duties – zero points as it’s their principal duty. But if during the day they also find time to help someone or to work above the norm, all these achievements are seen as a bonus. Where do we get all this information? From venue managers and team leaders. We've developed a complex feedback-based volunteer management system. We are constantly monitoring volunteers’ work and every evening we get reports from those people who assign tasks to them. Work can be done in different ways: well, perfectly or so-so. And names of those who go beyond their area of responsibility, become a role model of teamwork and are always ready to lend a helping hand will be announced on the main stage of the FINA Water World Park.   

Vsevolod Dvorkin, Press Office of Organising Committee for 16th FINA World Championships