Volunteers, 2020 Paralympic Games Regatta, Tokyo, Japan / World Rowing/Benedict Tufnell

Every year on 5 December we celebrate International Volunteer Day. In rowing, volunteers are crucial. They do everything from club coaching, helping organise rowing clubs, looking after boats, running regattas through to helping at the international level at regattas around the world.

World Rowing pays tribute to some of the many volunteers that make the sport of rowing possible at all levels.

Penney Bell, 71, comes from Great Britain and was brought into sport volunteering by the London 2012 Paralympic Games. “I discovered a second career to fill my retirement.”  Since the Paralympics, Bell has become a regular volunteer and her list is long from international cricket test matches to English hockey and badminton to the 2019 World Rowing Championships.

“I volunteer as I believe I can help support the event and make it something to remember for spectators and fellow volunteers,” says Bell who, when she has a choice, likes to be part of the media team, accreditation team or workforce management team.

“I’d encourage everyone to try volunteering, I know it’s not for everybody but seeing fellow volunteers smile again after all the Covid lockdowns and lack of sporting events shows that it provides a sense of well-being for many of us.”

Slovakia’s Katarina Jancekova is 26 years old and started volunteering at summer camps for children when she was just 13 years old. In 2016 she was lucky enough to earn a spot volunteering at the Rio Olympic Games and since then Jancekova has volunteered around the world including the 2021 World Rowing Under 23 Championships in the Czech Republic.

“The most inspiring part is being close to the athletes from all around the world,” says Jancekova. “To witness their life-time effort and spirit they bring to sport.”

One of Jancekova’s roles involved being in the mixed zone at the 2017 European Rowing Championships. “It’s absolutely amazing when you can really see the emotions and faces of athletes who had just won their European title.

“Volunteering gave me more than I will ever be able to give back. Even though it’s sometimes long hours in the sun, it’s given me a new perspective of sport and amazing new international friends.”

From Italy Claudio Burigana has volunteered at both the summer and winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Burigana’s motivation is be part of making the event organisation better and to grow his own experiences. “Volunteering is a very good way to learn and prepare for working life,” says Burigana. “Each time I volunteer I grow in character.”

Also from Italy Toni Bassi, 51, has volunteered at everything from boat holding, organising transport and press operations. “I like to be a volunteer to be part of a team, to experience events first-hand, to be in contact with people and in some cases even do something good for others,” says Bassi.

“Being a volunteer has served me to gain experiences around the world and to meet many new people and cultures.”

Taylor Smith, 28, of the United States says he volunteers because sports knows no borders and brings together people from around the world. Smith volunteered at the 2016 Olympic Games in timing and scoring.

“While there’s naturally competitive energy at events, there’s also teamwork, sportsmanship and mutual understanding,” says Smith. “It is this atmosphere that I love. Also volunteering has allowed me to meet amazing people who are some of my closest friends to this day.

“I recommend to anyone interested in sports to volunteer at least once at a sporting event. It’s a great way to get involved, make new connections and enjoy sports.”