x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Volunteers kick off Club World Cup

Emiratis are taking time away their from jobs and families to welcome visitors to the international football tournament.

ABU DHABI // When the Fifa Club World Cup kicks off in the capital tomorrow, Jassim al Ameri will be giving up more than a few hours with his family to be part of it.

The 32-year-old father of two will also sacrifice a big chunk of his annual leave to work as a volunteer area manager in the tournament's accreditation centre.

Taking part in the World Cup will be the champions from six continents, including Italy's Inter Milan and South Korea's Seongnam. Al Wahda will represent the UAE in tomorrow's opening match against Hekari United from Papua New Guinea.

Mr al Ameri has been hard at work since November 26.

"I've had only one day off, which was National Day," he said. "Every other day, we are working 10am to 10pm."

The petroleum engineer is one of 450 Emiratis who will be making sure the event runs smoothly as part of Takatof, the volunteering programme run by the Emirates Foundation.

When fans arrive at the airport, the volunteers will be there to help them get to their hotels. They will be at the stadiums, too, to guide visitors to their seats.

"I love to help my country," said Mr al Ameri. "It gives us a lot of things and we have to pay it back."

Hamad al Mhyas, a 31-year-old forensic geneticist from Abu Dhabi, said he wanted to show the country in a good light.

"Some people have their own impressions of people from here," he said. "They all think we live in big houses and spend all our money. I've lived for many years abroad and some have the wrong impression about us."

He said the 10-day tournament was an exciting time for him. "You get to improve your communications with people and improve your own qualities," he added.

For the duration of the tournament, he will do a full day in his government job, finishing at 2pm but staying on to deal with Fifa-related e-mails. From there, he will head to the tournament headquarters at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, where he will work until 10 each night.

"You constantly meet people from different countries, parts of Abu Dhabi and other emirates here. I see people who really want to do this."

As well as supervising the Football Village on the Corniche, he is also in charge of marketing and rights for the tournament, and of its media centre.

"We have volunteers all over the place and it's my job to look after the volunteers [to] make sure everything runs smoothy."

All that means he will be on his feet for at least six hours each match day.

"We had to wear trainers last year with our kandouras and I'm advising everyone else to do it this year."

During matches he will be on the lookout for any unofficial advertisers. Last year, that job put him in the unenviable position of having to tell some fans that their flags, logos and even company pins were not allowed past the gate.

"Team flags and logos with sponsors that are not official Fifa sponsors are not allowed in. When you talk to people from different nationalities and countries, you have to be very delicate with them and explain it."

Mr al Ameri and Mr al Mhyas have both volunteered before.

Mr al Ameri worked as a marshal at Abu Dhabi's two grands prix. Over the three days of each race weekend, he was stationed at the airport to welcome fans to the country.

"I don't have much time to sleep but I love to volunteer and help my country to make it successful," he said.

Mr al Mhyas has been more focused, volunteering at every international football event in the UAE since the Gulf Cup opening ceremony in 1994.

There is a downside to that focus: volunteers are not necessarily stationed at good vantage points for watching the matches.

Mr al Mhyas is determined to see some of the action, though.

"This year, I hope to see the final and semi," he said.