With the historic first Rugby World Cup match in Asia fast approaching, the volunteers are working to be just as ready as the players for the sport’s extravaganza.
About 400 of the 600 volunteers who will be stationed at Tokyo Stadium, the venue for Friday night’s opening match of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, went through their final orientation on Wednesday. The remaining 200 will do so on Friday ahead of the opening game between host Japan and Russia.
Tokyo Stadium will host eight matches, the most of any venue, including the opener and two of the quarterfinal contests, during the quadrennial event, which will continue until Nov. 2.
According to the organizers, the volunteers, who will total about 10,000 for the 12 host cities, are called “The No-Side Volunteers.” There will be more than 2,400 members for the Tokyo venue, and about 75 percent will be positioned throughout the Japanese capital at major transport hubs like Tokyo, Shinjuku and Haneda Airport.
Koto Sato, one of the volunteers who took part in Wednesday’s session, had been a girl scout growing up, but the World Cup will be the first time she will act as a volunteer at a sporting event. Sato, who currently lives in Tokyo, lived abroad in Britain and Ireland for about 6½ years overall, so English is not an issue for her.
“I’d been a little worried about how much success the World Cup would have in Japan,” said the 31-year-old company employee, who will be with the spectators service team at the tournament. “But there’s a lot of billboards placed in the streets and I’m just excited to be part of it right now.”
Atsuhiko Hirose, a 21-year-old university student, decided to come on board as part of the volunteer program because he lives “a (train) station away” from the stadium.
“This is an event that gets into swing both in Japan and in the world. And rugby’s getting more popular lately in Japan,” said Hirose, who is on the workforce team. “I wanted to leave footprints in Japan’s (sporting) history, too.”
Deborah Jones, deputy director of the workforce division of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Organising Committee, held a similar position at the 2011 tourney in her native New Zealand. But she stressed that it is a “Japanese experience” with the No-Side Team and its volunteers, who have omotenashi (hospitality) manner.
“That’s a very unique environment,” Jones said. “They will meet you with omotenashi. That’s Japanese and almost (a) spiritual thing.”
She added: “The volunteer program is not (the) Rugby World Cup only. It’s taking the Rugby World Cup and taking Japanese, putting it together.”
Asked if there have been hurdles and concerns as to the training sessions among others, Jones said with a smile that it has gone “surprisingly” well.
“They (the volunteers) are ready,” Jones said. “We’ve done a comprehensive program. Since the first training back in February, they’ve done a lot of training. They’re finishing off today.”