Kick360 was at Glen Eira FC, at the launch of the FIFA Volunteer program. Those who know best, encouraged others to embrace the opportunity.
In July next year, 32 nations will gather in Australia and New Zealand for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. With eight months to go, FIFA and the organizing committee are recruiting for one more team.
Volunteers are needed to assist the more than 1.5 million expected spectators. It is a chance to be a part of history.
Some illustrious names gathered at Melbourne club Glen Eira FC to celebrate the contributions that volunteers make to the women’s game, and to encourage volunteering for the World Cup.
Matilda’s Elise Kellond-Knight, Jada Whyman, Alex Chidiac and Emma Checker joined Legacy 23 Ambassador Kate Jenkins, and Dr Sheila Nguyen at the event. They honoured some of Australia’s most prolific sports volunteers, and pressed the case for more to join.
“Volunteering is great,” said Dr Nguyen, the World Cup head of sustainability.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the FIFA Women’s world cup come to these communities and to participate in something like that is going to be so memorable.
“Your contribution to something like that is going to be watched from by 1.5 billion people around the world, and 1.5 million people in the stadiums. It’s going to be so exciting.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of history.”
Anticipation is rapidly growing, ticket sales have already exceeded that of France 2019, and most fixtures are expected to sell out. For those wondering if volunteering might hamper their chances of enjoying the festival or football, Nguyen says they should not be concerned.
“You definitely won’t miss out. You’ll probably get more of the experience because you’re in an amongst it, you’re behind the scenes and you’re creating the experience.
“You’ll be bringing the energy and the excitement.”
Natalie Brotherston was one of those honored. She was presented a FIFA Volunteer Jersey by The Matildas and the world cup will mark her eighth major event.
The recently retired project manager has volunteered at the Olympics in Sydney and Athens, the Rugby World Cup, the 2002 Masters Games, the 2005 World Artistic Gymnastics, the 2006 Commonwealth Games and the 2007 Fina Championships.
For Brotherston, it was a natural extension of her skillset and an opportunity to be a part of the action.
She recalled a sense of wonderment and satisfaction at seeing Cathy Freeman at the opening ceremony, and fondly remembered contributing to the Rugby World Cup in Melbourne.
“Don’t hesitate,” was her message to anybody considering joining her.
“Volunteering is an awesome thing to do.
“You get rewarded more than you think. It equips you with skills that you didn’t think possible.
“Being at the Australia- England game in Melbourne, at a full docklands stadium, and just working with some awesome people. We still keep in touch with some of them today.”
Maggie Stavrou was recognized at the ceremony for her contributions to the grassroots game. She felt similarly rewarded by her time spent as a football volunteer.
“Definitely do it,” was her emphatic message.
Her volunteer journey began as a way to spend more time with her daughters. She completed a coaching course and took charge of the team. For the next seven season’s she players stayed together and retained their entire squad post-covid.
“I got so much out of it. I watched some young girls grow into beautiful young women and I got to be a mentor.
“You’re not raising kids, your raising adults. When they can see that someone who is like them can do that job, they feel inclined to stay together.”
When asked about her favorite highlights, it is the smaller moments that have had the biggest impact.
“For me it was them figuring out their chant, picking out their name which they did together. There was a bit of pressure on them to change their name. It started off as ‘Mercury’, then it changed to ‘Griffins.’
“They were asked to change it again, they said ‘no, we picked it, we want to stay with it.’
“Learning to find their voice was really good. It’s really important as parents and mentors that we gave them the courage to know they can have a voice and they can speak their minds.
Stavrou has seen first-hand what the game can provide for communities, volunteers and the players. She is effervescent when asked about the potential that the World Cup can unlock for the women’s game.
“It’s already grown so much.
“Covid really just put a lid on what was already bubbling under the surface. Two years of lockdown did nothing to stop their excitement of coming back together.
“This has just really lifted the excitement for them so much.”
‘If I wasn’t playing, I’d be volunteering’
The big attraction for the day was the first official appearance of the World Cup mascot Tazuni.
The bright haired penguin was rapturously greeted by the almost 70 young players, but the warmest welcome was reserved for an equally popular Matilda.
Alex Chidiac arrived with her teammates dressed in a penguin costume and bonded instantly with Tazuni.
“I wanted Tazuni to feel comfortable meeting me, so I thought coming as a penguin would do that,” said the Melbourne Victory star.
When the mascot was launched, the football world waited for the most important opinion. Chidiac’s appreciations for mascots is well documented from her time in Japan, and her voice on the issue matters.
“I had a lot of people messaging me,” she told Kick360.
“I had to take a day, to just form my own opinion.”
“But secretly behind the scenes nobody knows how much I like penguins. So, this was the best news I had ever heard in my entire life.
“I let the world know my feelings and now we’ve finally gotten to meet.
“We’ve got a really good bond growing, I hope we get to catch up more.
Glen Eira’s girl’s teams are named after senior Matildas, both Chidiac and Elise Kellond-Knight have sides names after them. Kellond-Knight provided a priceless memory to the Under-12 K-K’s when she presented them with the previous season’s winner medals.
Chidiac said that volunteers are vital to the sport at all levels and will be for the World Cup.
“Definitely volunteer,” she said
“If I wasn’t playing, I’d be volunteering, just to be around such a massive event like a world cup on home soil.
“All of this comes from community football. That’s why I fell in love with the game.
“I joined a club at a young age, I had a lot of volunteers that were there, supporting, reffing, running the lines, providing us with oranges at half time, all the little things that make you want to come out as a kid.
“This on this massive stage, when you’re going to have people from all around the world, it’s just going to incredible, so volunteer!”