Volunteers at the Heart of Rugby World Cup

The other week I was lucky enough to be in Sydney on a glorious balmy winter's day and happened across the colourful FIFA Fan Fest site at Darling Harbour.

What had been created was a wonderful festival to celebrate the other World Cup. It fringed the waterfront with banners, flags of the world and giant TV screens, all helping local football fans enjoy the matches in South Africa.

While checking out information on the day's entertainment, a friendly face came up to me - an older gentleman, decked out in the official orange colours of the Fan Fest site and offering any help I needed. He was a volunteer, had been doing similar events for years, he said. Just for the love of volunteering.

He was the face of the FIFA Fan Fest and a welcoming one at that. And this is exactly what we want our Rugby World Cup 2011 Volunteers to be. The Sydney experience was a timely reminder to me of just how valuable our volunteers will be, come Tournament time next year.

People power

We need more than 5,000 people to give up a bit of time to help us in a variety of roles. These are not glamorous jobs. You won't get to see a match. You may be buried in the backrooms of a stadium helping with catering issues, ceremonies and sports presentation. Or you could be directly dealing with visitors, helping them to their seats or in the many roles outside stadia, on the streets, at our Fan Zones, in hotels and at our transport hubs.

There is no doubt, as my experience in Sydney underlined, that those who deal directly with our visitors will have an important role in contributing to their experience. However, regardless of the role, all volunteers will be doing their bit to help the Tournament run smoothly.

If the Tournament succeeds, visitors will think their investment in coming so far will have been well worth it.

Making our visitors at home

We want visitors to leave New Zealand with the best memories. Why? Quite simply there is no better advertisement for our great country than the word of mouth endorsement of happy visitors.

All of us have a part to play. We are all volunteers in one sense. That's why we have dubbed New Zealand "the Stadium of Four Million Hosts".

And one of the ways we can all make a difference to this Tournament is getting in behind the teams that visit our regions. We love our rugby and the All Blacks, but they can only play seven matches at most out of the 48 to be played. There are 19 other teams that will visit here and not many will come with an army of fans to cheer them on.

We need our stadia to be full of fans barracking for one of the sides. There is nothing like that roar of a crowd to spur teams on. It will also make a real difference to the way we Kiwis enjoy the Tournament.

If we all do a little bit to welcome our visitors wherever we encounter them, if we all make the effort to take part in some way, then we would have made the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity. That is our challenge next year.

For further information on the Rugby World Cup 2011 Volunteer Programme, visitĀ www.rugbyworldcup.com/volunteer

Martin Snedden is the Chief Executive Officer at Rugby New Zealand 2011, the tournament organisers for Rugby World Cup 2011