PETALING JAYA, July 13 — Third-year student Khairul Fahmy Khairuddin may be more than 8,000 kilometres away from his home in Malacca but that did not stop him from bringing a piece of Malaysia to Saint Petersburg, Russia, where he is studying shipbuilding and ocean engineering.
The 22-year-old Saint Petersburg State Marine Technical University student, who is a volunteer at the World Cup, said he wanted to be a part of a global sporting event and registered as a volunteer the second he saw an advertisement in a metro station.
Khairul was assigned to the Fifa Fan Fest in Saint Petersburg, a carnival organised for all 11 host cities and fans around the world to watch the World Cup matches.
“It has big screens, stages, sponsor booths, a food court and a games centre for fans who didn’t go to the stadium,” he described.
“We have different tasks every shift, one day I’d be stationed around the big screen area or another zone. During the Russia vs Spain match, my duty was to guide fans at the gate.”
From dealing with drunk, aggressive fans to overexcited ones (a Brazilian fan stole his volunteer cap after Brazil defeated Serbia), it was all part of the experience.
“Once, the police had to step in because a group of Arab and European fans wouldn’t stop chanting and dancing,” he recalls.
“Meeting people from different countries and sharing stories made me enjoy every moment of being a volunteer.”
The highlight for Khairul?
“Watching Costa Rica vs Brazil in my Baju Melayu just so my mum knows I celebrated Raya at the World Cup this year, and the quarter-final match between England and Colombia.”
Aerospace engineering graduate Sayyidatul Aisyah Sulaiman who studied at the Moscow Aviation Institute was delighted to be one of 17,040 volunteers out of 176,000 applicants worldwide.
“I was assigned under Spectator Services (SPS) and volunteer management function at Luzhniki Stadium where a total of seven matches are held, including the opening and final matches.
“While on duty, I met several people from Malaysia, we took photos and greeted each other but the most unforgettable moment was when I received a jar of kuih raya as a gift from a Malaysian couple on the third day of Syawal,” she said.
Although the 23-year-old said training was tough as it was conducted in Russian and she had to remember a tonne of details.
It did, however, come with some perks.
“Our uniform was sponsored by Adidas from head to toe and we had accreditation to enter the stadium, free meals and public transportation,” she said.
No racism and well organised, Malaysian fans say
Warehouse logistics manager Jasmi Kamsar, 47 was in Russia from July 2 to July 11 to catch the quarter-finals match between Brazil and Belgium in Kazan.
“I drove from Moscow to Kazan by land which was more than 800km.
“We had no issues with language, although not all can speak English but they're helpful,” said Jasmi who paid US$345 (RM1,395) for his seat in the stadium.
He said halal food was easy to find and he mostly ate kebabs and shashlik (Russian shish kebabs).
“It was an awesome experience, everyone was so friendly and helpful,” he said.
Jasmi’s friend and die-hard Brazil supporter Muruga Kumaran Ayavoo, 47 watched Brazil vs Mexico and Brazil vs Belgium. Like Jasmi, it was also his first time in Russia.
“It was so good to watch the game so near especially Brazil vs Belgium – I sat three rows from the field,” said the Kuala Lumpur resident who owns a tuition business.
Although travelling between Russian cities was tiring, Muruga said the metro system and taxis were convenient. Free shuttle service to the games was also provided.
When it came to communication, Muruga said locals “used a translation app on their smartphones which made it easy and volunteers were young people who can speak some English.”
As a food-obsessed Malaysian, Muruga mainly depended on McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) for convenience but said he enjoyed Tartarian cuisine in Kazan.
“Food is generally affordable but seafood is expensive,” he said.
Despite racial discrimination fears by anti-racism watchdogs, Muruga said his experience was the complete opposite.
“I didn’t encounter any racism at all. In fact, I felt I stood out because of my skin colour and so many Russians stopped me to ask for a picture,” he said.