First of all I would like to inform those who do not know that, unfortunately, registration to work as a volunteer for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil are now closed. The good news is that for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro they are not even open!! So, I will tell you about my experience as a volunteer for the Winter Olympics Games 2010 in Vancouver and give some tips for you to be accepted…or tips for those who are already in the selection process for the World Cup 2014.
An update to the above information: the World Cup and Rio 2016 Olympics are past and gone. It’s still too early to apply for Tokyo 2020, but here’s the link to the Winter Olympics games in Pyeonchang, South Korea (http://vol.pyeongchang2018.com/en/index) and the World Cup in Russia (https://ems.fifa.com/Volunteer/login/RUSSIA/). Both applications are now open!
Note: This article was originally written after Rodrigo’s experience volunteering for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver…. but if you’d like to read some more of our updated tips and thoughts after volunteering for the Rio 2016 Olympics, scroll down to the bottom.
First of all, what even made me consider volunteering for this huge sporting event?
At one point, a friend of mine had participated as a volunteer at the Athens Olympics and told me what a positive experience it was to be part of one of the greatest shows on earth!
I found the idea really interesting at the time, but I didn’t think very seriously about actually doing something like that. However, in 2006 when I was backpacking through Spain I met a Canadian who changed my mind. Not him exactly, but the situation itself.
We were in the same hostel talking and he told me he had rented a place with some other friends in Torino, Italy, during the 2006 Winter Olympics. Then he invited me to spend some time with them during the games….and of course I couldn’t miss such a chance!
Unfortunately, arriving there he had forgotten to tell his friends that he had invited a stranger from Brazil to stay in the house with them, which then generated a certain amount of stress and discomfort on their part. However, I was determined to cope with the bad situation and enjoy the fact that I was in the middle of the Olympic Games, for free!!
As a Brazilian, you know, we just needed the first party to break the ice and then we became great friends.
But that’s not the story. During the games I got really excited with all the activities, events, festival of fireworks and the “hospitality houses” of various countries.
The Canadian who invited me was working for the “Canada House” and on a particular night we went to an event to promote the next Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.
I must confess that I was a little drunk and therefore a bit emotional. But when I saw a clip on the screen showing how the Olympics in Vancouver would be, I told myself “I have to be part of it!!”
How did I start the process of becoming a volunteer for the Olympic Games?
With this idea in my head I went to the website of the Vancouver Games to learn how to sign up to be a volunteer. The site reported that the enrollment would only begin two years before the games…, in other words, since I was in 2006 and the entries would only begin in 2008, I had to wait 2 more years.
Once the date finally arrived, I filled in the application with information such as:
• Language skills (with English usually being the most important)
• Teamwork experience
• Customer service abilities
• Passion for sports
• Work experience
Basically, you apply for the volunteer position as you would apply for a job.
Now, having signed up two years before the event would start, I was one of the first to sign up and now I just had to wait to be called.
The problem was that I made a serious mistake during my application. I put that I had no accommodation to stay in in Vancouver because I thought my resume was interesting enough for them to choose me and then arrange me a place to stay….what a big mistake….
Turns out they do arrange places to accommodate some volunteers, but only for volunteers with extremely valuable skills such as doctors and event coordinators….not for a nobody like me.
Suddenly, there were only two months left until the Olympics and I had still had no contact from the organizers. I called and they told me they were giving priority to volunteers who had a place to stay since there wasn’t much accommodation available and what was available was really expensive.
To give you an idea, the city rented 3 huge cruise ships to house police officers from other regions of Canada who were assisting in the security during the games.
Acknowledging the problem, I went straight to the Games site and changed my application stating that YES, I had a place to stay in Vancouver…. even though I still didn’t have one….
I called them again, being that annoying guy, insisting, until I got what I wanted. Since it was less than 2 months from the games, all the important volunteer positions were already filled and the only remaining were the “basic” ones (like an information guide without big responsibilities).
So they said I would be staying in certain areas of the city near the subway giving tourist information to visitors and organizing the queue for the subway when some big event ended to prevent the overload of the transportation system. Putting my role in perspective, I was in one of the lowest hierarchical positions of all the people working for the games.
Obviously, this was not the position I wanted to be in but since the most important thing for me was to be a part of the games (but without being an athlete :-)) and the fact that I had done my application incorrectly and solved the problem at the last minute, I was more than satisfied with the result!
I then solved the accommodation issue very easily.
Most people have heard about the free classified site called Craigslist. It is very big in the U.S. and Canada. You can find everything from jobs, housing, dating ads and so on. It was there that I found my accommodation almost a month before the games. I shared a house with some local students not far from where the events happened and for a very reasonable price.
Like any major event in the world, there are many people who live in the city where they are happening and will rent rooms, sofas or even the whole house during the event just to make a buck. I know some people who lived in one of the cities hosting the World Cup that rented their home and traveled during the games because they wanted to escape the crowds.
WARNING: Beware of any ad that asks you to make a deposit in advance to reserve the place. Often this is a scam!! Try to check if the place really exists, talk with a friend who lives in the town to go and check for you, ask for references, and search on the internet (google, facebook, etc…) so you won’t get screwed over.
Also, there is always the possibility to couchsurf or stay in a hostel. You can read more about these options on my page about accommodations.
Airbnb is also the new thing for accommodation around the world where regular people just rent their houses or rooms. To have an idea, I heard that 1/3 of people who went to Brazil for the World Cup used Airbnb.
After taking care of the accommodation, everything was simpler. I went there on the date indicated, grabbed my uniform, had a training on how to deal with the public, learned where the main locations of the games were and I started working.
As a volunteer, obviously, you do not receive a salary but they gave us some money for lunch on the days we had to work. Plus, we had days off to enjoy the games.
To prevent the volunteers from not showing up (which unfortunately happens a lot) you had a point card and each time you completed a certain number of days you earned some kind of prize.
I earned pins, wine, a shirt (plus the entire uniform that I got to keep in the end) and since, I did not miss any days, I received a Swatch watch from the games on my last day. In addition, there was a raffle among all volunteers and I got a mini replica of the torch….pretty cool!!
But the material things you earn are the least important. The main thing is the experience of participating in something so big, seen by billions (yes, with 9 zeroes) of people worldwide and to meet athletes and volunteers from around the world. I had the chance to watch the final rehearsal of the opening ceremony of the games and I had access to a few games of ice hockey and went to many festivals and events through the streets of Vancouver (it was something to go out partying and find a drunk Olympian athlete celebrating with a gold medal around his neck…only during the Olympics!).
In the end I invested some money (which was completely worth it for what I got out of the experience) but it was a unique once in a lifetime experience that was really worthwhile.
In short, why be a volunteer for the World Cup and Olympics?
Because you will an amazing experience by being part of one of the biggest events on this planet!
It’s also good for CVs 🙂
How to find accommodation during the Olympic Games or the World Cup?
As I said, there are many online classified sites where people post ads. Just search the sites that I mentioned above. For Rio 2016, I used Airbnb and I think it’s one of the best options.
What are the exact steps to volunteer for the Olympic Games or World Cup?
1. Fill out your volunteer application online (just google to find the website you’re looking for, ex. “Korea 2018 Olympic volunteer”).
2. Complete online group interview (you’ll receive an invite via email) .
3. Have “online conversation” discussing your role in your specific area.
4. Receive invitation letter (via email) with your specific position for the games.
4.1. If you’ve received your invitation letter, I’d really recommend trying to book your flights and accommodation at this point.
5. Accept invitation letter and your position or call and change if you’d like something different.
6. Pack, don’t miss your flights and have a great time!
PS: These were just the exact steps that we went through to volunteer at Rio…. but it’s likely to be a bit different for each games.
Updated tips and thoughts after volunteering at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
- To start, one of the most common questions we’ve received: Will my flight to the Olympics be paid for if I am a volunteer? The short answer is no. You are on your own for both your flight as well as your accommodation. You will, however, receive a fancy uniform (check out pics below), and food and transportation on the days you work…. plus an awesome experience to be part of the largest event in the world!
- Apply as soon as possible because application dates close early!
- Keep an open mind and stay flexible. Planning an event like this is a massive, complicated process so be prepared for delays and don’t expect everything in your work day to go as planned…. if you’re ready for this, you’ll have a great time!
- Be persistent. If you haven’t been placed yet or are in a position you don’t like, don’t be afraid to call and email the organization.
- However, also don’t be disappointed if you don’t get the position you wanted… just going to the games in the first place is an achievement in itself!
- Remember that most of those around you (including some of your “supervisors”) are volunteers such as yourself…. so cut them some slack if things don’t always go smoothly.
- Start learning some foreign languages. Even if you don’t know the language of the host country, they might still need your language skills to work with foreign athletes, dignitaries, etc.
- If there’s a game you really want see…. feel free to go ahead and get tickets in advance. You can request specific days off closer to the time of your arrival.
- Join the volunteer Facebook group. You’ll find all sorts of useful information about the application process + can ask other volunteers questions if you have them!
- Remember that you don’t need to participate for the whole games. You participate just in the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games, or both. Also remember that you only need to have availability for about 10 days in one or the other (so you’ll have time to watch some games and get to know the place).
- ALWAYS SAY THAT YOU HAVE ACCOMMODATION ALREADY ON YOUR APPLICATION, even if it’s not true. Trust me, it’ll make your life much easier.
- Don’t forget about the Paralympics! It’s also a big event that uses lots of volunteers. The application process is the same.
- Be sure to check out the other links on our website to help you plan your trip for the cheapest cost! You can find a list of all our favorite websites and companies on our “resources page” on the bottom of this page. Otherwise, here are some specific pages to help you out:
If you are going to Pyeonchang 2018 – 22 Interesting Things I Learned Living in South Korea + 13 Places to visit in South Korea
If you are going to Tokyo 2020 – 2 Things to Know Before Visiting Japan + How to Climb Mount Fuji (it’s easy to do from Tokyo!)
ONE LAST NOTE: For foreigners who want to volunteer here in Brazil or at other events such as the 2018 World Cup in Russia, check if you need a visa to enter the country. If not, you may work as a volunteer without a visa. If you need a visa, once accepted as a volunteer, you should ask the organization of the event for a confirmation letter of the volunteer offer. This way, you can take this confirmation letter to the consulate of the host country to facilitate in getting the visa.
Are you interested in volunteering for the World Cup, Olympics, or Paralympics? Do you have any more questions? Please ask in the comments area below and we will try to help you the best as we can. If you have volunteered and would like to comment or criticize, please do so!
*The “Out of Your Comfort Zone” is an independent website and has no affiliation with FIFA and the Olympic Committee. The information contained in this article represents the views of the author, collaborators and readers. FIFA, World Cup and Olympic Games logos are trademarked by the respective companies.
To learn about my favorite travel companies and resources that let me travel so much for such a low cost, take a look at my special page of “travel resources.”
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