“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi
They are invisible. Faces of different colour, gender, age, occupation, size, and shape. All dressed in the same garb; a red T-shirt, a red jacket if it’s cold, often a cap and sometimes a walkie-talkie in their ears. The word ‘Cricketeer’ is emblazoned on their backs, but the red kit provides anonymity instead of an identity.
Your eyes gloss over their smiling faces as they hand out programs, ask you not to smoke in the stands, or hold the door open for you. For the spectators, the players, and even us in the media, they are just one of the many staff involved in running the biggest ever Women’s World Cup, along with the security people in their high-vis kits, and the broadcasting crew in no uniform whatsoever (except at Lord’s, where they had to wear a jacket and tie). Their bright red kit, in the colour that has the highest visibility in the spectrum, might as well be an invisibility cloak.
But there is a critical difference between the rest of the staff and these Cricketeers. They are not paid for their time. They are not reimbursed for their travel costs. They are simply volunteers.
But they are much more than that.
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” — Muhammad Ali
“I think one of the biggest legacies (of London 2012) is how volunteering is a part of these overall events”, said David Cox, one of the Cricketeers at Leicester. The purple-shirted ‘Games Makers’ were a prominent feature of the 2012 London Olympics, and for many people in the city, were the first big advertisement of how volunteers can be involved in an event. But the culture of volunteering has existed in England for some time now.
According to a study of Motivations of Sports Volunteers in England, “Volunteering exists in an extremely wide range of roles — coach, captain, secretary, chairman, treasurer, administrator, fundraiser, washing the kit, transporting children, and a range of other more niche and sport-specific activities.” And the culture extends much beyond sport. “The United Kingdom has a voluntary sector of over 160,000 registered charities and many more informal voluntary organisations. These are supported by millions of volunteers of all ages — 48 percent of British adults volunteered at least once a month in 2014 and 74 percent at least once in the year (Cabinet Office, 2015).”
“What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good” — Aristotle
While the Olympics catapulted sports volunteering in the public eye in the UK, organized volunteering in cricket started in 2009. “Before it might have been a handful of people doing specific roles”, said Richard Lightbrown, the ICC volunteer manager at Derby. “But we first started using volunteers at major international events for the World T20 in 2009… so cricket was slightly ahead of the curve.”
The volunteer program continued to grow, but really made its first evolution after the London Olympics. “That kick-started it”, said Katie Lister, the volunteer coordinator for the Women’s World Cup. “It was 2013 when we looked at 2009 and went: We know it works, we have seen it work in large numbers in the Olympics, and we need to give it a brand.” The name Cricketeers came out of a brainstorming session ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013.
Since then, the Cricketeers program has given a vast number of sports-loving volunteers a chance to be a part of the action. Besides the 2013 Champion’s Trophy, 0ver 1,500 Cricketeers were involved in the Champion’s Trophy and the World Cup this year.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give” — Winston Churchill
If you thought you can just walk in and join the Cricketeers, you would be mistaken.
Hopefuls can apply through a number of different channels: by post, their local cricket club, even websites that offer volunteering opportunities across sports. Those who were shortlisted had to clear police checks, and then were called for interviews. The interview, though, was not what you might expect.
“This interview was a team building day”, said Neil Brown, one of the Cricketeers at Derby. “We had to work as a team and do different crafts tasks, and we were being watched. We were given balloons, string, Sellotape, scissors, and we had to get one member of our team off the floor using those materials. So we made a massive bed of balloons and had to get a person lying on it without a balloon bursting.” Only after a day’s worth of interviews and training was an applicant eligible for selection.
The ones who were selected were then assigned departments and dates according to their skills, experience and availability. The six major departments were Accreditation, Event and Sponsor Activation, Hospitality, Media, Spectator Services, and Transport.
“Only a life lived for others is a life worth living”— Albert Einstein
The Cricketeers were everyday people, with everyday problems, coming together for a higher purpose. Holly Stowe, aged just 20, looked like the least experienced volunteer at Derby, but once she started talking, it was not surprising to learn that she was a team leader. An Event Management student, she had also previously volunteered in two tennis tournaments, and with the British Council. As a part of the spectator services team, she gets to interact with fans and hear their stories. “Quite a lot of people have travelled from far away, like some people have come down from Scotland this morning”, she told Firstpost.
Sue Laister was a Cricketeer who actually worked with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), as the Competitions Officer for Recreational Sport. Unlike most other volunteers, who took leave to participate in this tournament, she would return to her regular job after fulfilling her duties at the game. If that sounds like she was pushing herself too hard, it is a way of her giving back, she said. “As you become a bit older, you help to 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.”
Desmond Bonser travelled from Nottingham to Derby to volunteer, taking leave from his full time job as an accountant. He said he had been volunteering in different shapes or forms for 40 years.
He dismissed the suggestion that standing on the street outside the ground – often in the rain — welcoming people in was challenging. “You take it, that’s why you volunteer”, he said. “Nobody’s forcing you to be a volunteer. Sunny day or rainy day, you do it and smile.”
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” — Martin Luther King Jr
The organisers in turn appreciate that the volunteers are giving up much of their time to help the event run smoothly. So they ensure that they are well taken care of. Besides training and kit, the Cricketeers were briefed about weather, VIP movements, and expected attendance before games. They got sufficient breaks between duties, and had their own dining area. Care was taken to allow them to watch the match where their duties permitted. “It makes you feel valued and an important part of the day”, said Laister.
It is easy to mistake these volunteers as employees, so professional is their manner. They were the unsung heroes of both tournaments, so much so that when a couple of team captains were asked about them, they didn’t even know that the Cricketeers were there on a voluntary basis. When Stafanie Taylor, West Indies skipper, learned of this, she immediately offered one of her playing jerseys to the nearest Cricketeer.
The success of a sports volunteering program like the Cricketeers depends heavily on the prevalence of a volunteer culture in the host country. “We recognize the value the volunteers could bring in other tournaments, but it might be stripped back in terms of certain roles in certain areas”, said Lightbrown. India had mixed results with volunteers for the Commonwealth Games in 2010; a report claimed that many volunteers dropped out of the event for various reasons. But with India being the host of the next edition of Champions Trophy, there is already a blueprint for a successful program available: Just follow the men and women in red.