University mobilises volunteers for the 2010 Soccer World Cup

By Rejoice Shumba [1]

It is estimated that 100 000 volunteers will be involved in the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup to be hosted in South Africa. The significance of this number becomes clear when one considers that it has been estimated that the 2008 Olympic Games, a much larger sporting event than the Soccer World Cup, will also make use of
100 000 volunteers.

To ensure that this large body of volunteers are well trained and prepared for one of the biggest events South Africa has ever hosted, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) has taken a leading role by launching a volunteer-training programme specifically aimed at preparing sufficient numbers of volunteers to assist with various aspects of the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.

The programme, called the Varsity Volunteer Initiative (VVI), has now entered its pilot phase after extensive groundwork. Professor Wim Hollander, UJ’s Executive Director of Sport and Head of Sport and Movement Studies is very enthusiastic about the VVI and sees it as an initiative that will go beyond 2010.

From pilot to national roll-out

When fully rolled out the VVI will be operated from each of the universities in the country and will recruit and train volunteers to provide assistance at the 2008 FIFA Soccer World Cup. These volunteers will be recruited from the universities themselves, surrounding schools and the community at large. The VVI will be open to anyone interested in volunteering. Basic reading and writing skills as well as prior experience in volunteering will be the main requirements for participation in the programme.

The VVI is currently being piloted at UJ in the university’s Department of Sports and Human Movement Studies. Approximately 600 students have already been trained as volunteers and assist in sports events organised by the university.

The main challenge identified to date during the pilot phase has been time planning during the training. Certain more generic skills, such as communication skills, can be taught well in advance of an event, whereas event-specific training can only be done shortly before the event but tends to take longer than initially estimated.


One of the biggest anticipated challenges for the VVI is the issue of incentives. With South Africa’s high levels of poverty, most of the volunteers at the 2010 Soccer World Cup are likely to be unemployed. Professor Hollander is of the view that South African volunteers are different from those in developed countries and they perceive volunteering as a way to gain access to resources, such as transport and lunch allowances as well as skills. Organisations should take all this into consideration as they explore ways of compensating the volunteers.

When asked about the type of incentives that he thinks should be given to 2010 volunteers, Professor Hollander pointed to the need for thorough research on South African volunteers to find out what is important to them and what they hope to gain from volunteering, particularly in the 2010 event and more generally in other events that will come before and after 2010.

One way of compensating the volunteers, which is being considered by the universities, is to empower them with accredited skills that they can use to gain access to employment. However, this poses problems for higher-education institutions because they are not certified to offer further education and training, so they cannot offer such short training courses. The universities are considering various ways of solving this problem but one way of solving it is for the universities to partner with accredited colleges.

Assessing the impact of the initiative

The VVI’s impact will be measured with a specially designed tool, the Sport in Development Assessment Tool (SDAT). The tool has been developed by the University of Johannesburg with the assistance of the Australian Sports Commission.

The tool was initially designed to measure the impact of community development programmes but has wider applications. It has already been used successfully to measure the impact of several projects including the Active Community Club, a programme in the Eastern Cape that is funded by the Australian Sports Commission.

Funding for the programme

The VVI promises great returns if well funded. At the moment, funding for the groundwork that preceded the pilot study came from the coffers of universities, particularly that of UJ. Professor Hollander foresees that at the moment, the universities can handle the expenses. But once the VVI is rolled out nationally, the expenses will be too much to be handled by the universities.

It has been very difficult to get access to FIFA, but Professor Hollander is hopeful that once they have the whole programme on paper and have piloted and launched it, it will become easier to approach funders and also get buy-in from government. His main goal at the moment is putting the programme in place and perfecting it so that they can have something concrete to show potential sponsors.

Volunteer database

In the process of launching the VVI, Professor Hollander and his team started a volunteer database. The idea is that each university will keep a database of the volunteers in their surrounding communities. The ultimate plan is to merge all the databases once they are fully developed. The merging of the databases will be a milestone in the South African voluntary sector because, for the first time, the country will have a volunteer database of the whole nation. With this database in place it will be possible to access every volunteer’s contact details, qualifications, interests and individual experience at the click of a button.

Beyond 2010

Although the VVI is geared towards the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, Professor Hollander sees the initiative going beyond 2010. Volunteer services are going to be utilised in sport before 2010 as well as during other sporting events that will come after 2010. The database is an important resource that will provide other interested organisations easy access to volunteers who are interested in their line of work.

For more details about the VVI contact Professor Hollander on +27 11 559 2671.

[1] Rejoice Shumba is the Project Coordinator at VOSESA.