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Under-21 EURO: Ioana Bortan and the rewards of volunteering

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Anyone attending UEFA European Under-21 Championship matches in Georgia and Romania will have been struck by the warm welcome provided by that essential ingredient of any successful event – friendly and helpful volunteers.

 Volunteers before the UEFA Under-21 EURO quarter-final between France and Ukraine
Volunteers before the UEFA Under-21 EURO quarter-final between France and Ukraine UEFA via Sportsfile

In Romania alone, a total 270 of volunteers were in action across the four venues, representing 13 different nationalities from four continents. While a large proportion were students, their ranks also included engineers, economists, IT specialists and a range of other professions. The projects with the highest number of volunteers included ticketing, spectator services and accreditation, the last of which can boast the tournament’s oldest volunteer, at the age of 61.

For Alex Cândea, tournament project leader for the Romanian Football Federation (FRF), hosting UEFA events such as EURO 2020 and the Under-21 EURO has seen a vibrant volunteer community come to life: "We have the greatest joy when we meet again with volunteers from previous projects. I think we manage to provide a family environment in which they have special professional satisfaction. At the FRF, we have formed a permanent volunteer unit – the Team Behind the Team. This is real legacy in action."

One volunteer with a very particular background is Ioana Bortan, the captain of the Romanian women’s national team. A veteran player with 116 caps to her name, the 34-year-old saw elite tournament football from a different perspective as team liaison officer (TLO) for France. Several years working for French companies means that she speaks the language fluently and had no hesitation in grasping the opportunity when it arose.

"I agreed in a split second," she said. "I was very keen to see how things are, let’s say, on the other side. During my career, I noticed how team managers and TLOs act and therefore I wanted to put in practice everything I had witnessed so far. However, I had not fully realised how crucial small details are, how all the pieces of a puzzle fit together in a bigger picture."

Romania captain Ioana Bortan
Romania captain Ioana Bortan

Even for such an assured character, there was some initial uncertainty about what to expect: "I felt confident but also some emotions at the beginning, because it was my first time in such a role. However, right from the start of the French team’s preparation visit last October, I felt total acceptance, which eased everything.

"We stayed in close contact, I helped them with everything they needed, and the highlight was when the team arrived here for the tournament and invited me to eat at the same table with them. That level of inclusion and respect really made an impression on me."

Bortan did not always seem destined for a life in football. Indeed, her childhood and teenage years in the town of Sighișoara were dedicated to gymnastics and athletics, with football a side interest. It was only after enrolling at the sports university in Cluj-Napoca that she tried out for CCF Clujana, now renamed Olimpia. One year later, she was making her international debut.

 Ioana Bortan (L) in international action against France
Ioana Bortan (L) in international action against FranceAFP/Getty Images

After the conclusion of the Under-21 Championship, she will join FCV Farul Constanța, who have been promoted to the top division amid high expectations: "I loved the way Farul’s top management approached me and spoke to me. I am very enthusiastic about their project and ambitions."

The skills and insights acquired through her volunteer experience will surely only help her meet this new challenge.

Learn about the UEFA EURO 2024 volunteer programme

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