Fans can expect plenty of helping hands at the Rugby World Cup starting on Sept. 20 as a record-high 13,000 volunteers are set to cover 12 venues across Japan.
They have been named the "Team No-Side," a Japanese rugby term corresponding to the English "full time." The tournament organizers say they want the volunteers to embody the friendly spirit that Japanese rugby has nurtured over the years and convey the message "of seeing the world as one."
Around 38,000 people applied for the planned 10,000 volunteer slots before the tournament organizing committee announced the recruitment of 13,000. The male-female ratio stands at around one to one from a wide-range of generations between 18 and 88.
They will be guiding the fans around the venues as well as at nearby stations, while some will have the chance to work for VIPs like government and business figures from around the world.
Their first training was held in February and March, when they started by learning about the history of the World Cup. Chosen team leaders, tasked with connecting the organizing committee with the volunteers, underwent another course in June as they got to know one another through mini-games while also receiving lectures on cardiac massage.
"I'm getting excited as the World Cup draws closer," said 40-year-old Kumiko Shinohara from Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, who is set to assist operations at Kumagaya Rugby Ground in adjacent Saitama Prefecture where three group games will be played.
"I'd like to learn up close the know-how of running international competitions," Shinohara said. She, like other volunteers, has been undergoing training at actual venues since late August as each of the 12 host sites prepares to welcome fans from around the world with their own hospitality.
The volunteers won't be paid anything, just like those for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next summer -- which upon announcement drew criticism from some people, who termed them "black volunteers," in reference to the Japanese term "black companies" engaged in exploitative sweatshop-type employment.
Worse still, the World Cup volunteers won't even be getting prepaid travel cards and will have to pay for their own travel and hotels.
They are, however, supplied with free jackets and polo shirts with the tournament logos on. "It raised my motivation," one volunteer said, while another said, "I'll make it my family heirloom."
Akira Shimazu, the Rugby World Cup 2019 Organizing Committee CEO, is banking on Team No-Side to help make the tournament a success.
"I want them to present the tournament together as the face of the historic first World Cup held in Asia, and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience."