Tuesday 19 December 2023, 10:30

Inspirational Rakan savours “once-in-a-lifetime” FIFA Club World Cup 2023™ opportunity

  • Rakan Alzahrani, who is visually impaired, one of 400 volunteers at the FIFA Club World Cup 2023™ in Saudi Arabia

  • Jeddah-born student hopes to “enhance” awareness of disabled participation in major events

  • Previously benefitted from FIFA’s specially adapted Audio-Descriptive Commentary also available at the tournament

One of FIFA’s main goals is to make football accessible and enjoyable for all on and off the pitch. FIFA Club World Cup 2023™ volunteer Rakan Alzahrani is not only helping achieve this in Saudi Arabia, he is living proof of it. Alzahrani has been completely blind from birth; now 20, and studying at the Travel and Tourism Management Institute at the King Abdulaziz University in the tournament’s host city, Jeddah, he is gaining invaluable experience to complement his studies, and blazing a trail for people with disabilities in his country. “Personally, I like volunteering and helping even in sectors that I’m not well-grounded in. I try my best to help regardless, and to make an impact. Professionally, I see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will have a great impact in developing the skills and expertise of those who participate in it,” said Alzahrani, who was looking forward to his favourite teams, Al Ittihad FC and Manchester City FC, and his favourite player, Al Ittihad’s French superstar Karim Benzema, playing in the competition. “Of course, since the norm is that organisers tend to ignore people with disabilities, then naturally people with disabilities may think, ‘Why bother signing up if they will probably reject me anyway?’ But I think my participation will, hopefully by God’s will, enhance the awareness of that notion, and the importance of disabled participation in event organising and other sectors.”

Alzahrani is part of the volunteer management team based in the FIFA Volunteer Centre next to the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium, which will host the majority of the 2023 tournament’s games, Stationed at his post where he welcomes some of the 400 volunteers who ensure the competition runs smoothly, he was just as seamlessly integrated into his role himself. “Despite all the difficulties that I faced, the team that was with me was very understanding and cooperative. This is something that I thank them for,” said Alzahrani, who was applauded by his colleagues at the end of his interview with FIFA.com. “I found huge understanding and collaboration in the team.”

Volunteer Rakan Al Zahrani is seen at his desk working

Alzahrani, who has been an enthusiastic football fan since childhood, has been able to take advantage of FIFA’s efforts to make the game accessible to all. During a memorable FIFA World Cup 2022™ for Saudi Arabia, who defeated eventual champions Argentina in their opening game of the group stage in Qatar, he used FIFA’s Audio-Descriptive Commentary (ADC) service. ADC, which is also in place for the FIFA Club World Cup 2023™, provides specially adapted commentary for blind and partially-sighted fans, so that they too can live the matchday experience fully, inside or outside the stadium.

“First of all, the Saudi team defeating the World Cup champions was a great achievement, one which all Saudis and Arabs celebrated. Secondly, the FIFA initiative ran quite smoothly with Qatar University,” said Alzahrani. “They described the match live through an application designed by FIFA. That was applied in the tournament, and helped blind people to better follow the match.”