Your passion for sport could become your passport to travel if you follow the lead of James Burton. Sixteen years ago he realised that the best way to see the world was to get involved with different communities. So he set up Sporting Opportunities, which places volunteers with skills in a variety of sports. They now have projects in fifteen countries, with destinations as diverse as Ghana and the Caribbean.
“Most young people and students will be doing something sports focused with their studies,” says James. “We’ll help them gain new life experiences.”
James’ participants fund their own travel to their chosen location and pay a small fee to cover board and lodging in a safe environment. Recruits also go on tours and take part in sessions so they can better understand local customs and practices. Volunteers on a fortnight-long cricket placement in India will spend the first week on cultural orientation activities. The total fee is £525 and the payment also funds new sporting equipment for use within that community.
I asked James how Sporting Opportunities decides who goes where. “We talk to individuals about what is most appropriate for them and how much they like to be challenged,” he replied. “And of course, it depends on the sports that they are interested in and which countries offer those sports.”
As you might expect, football-coaching places are widely available. Rugby players can be employed in St Lucia, where James has forged a partnership with the national rugby body. One of the most vital roles is as a swimming teacher. And if you’re passionate about watersports, James will soon add kitesurfing and windsurfing in the Dominican Republic to the options list. “I’m also interested in people who can train youngsters in martial arts and Thai boxing,” he adds. “We can offer extra training for volunteers in that field.”
If you want to teach kids in Ghana how to box you’ll soon realise your role has a wider impact. “Some of the kids don’t go to school. We’re there to support them and teach them life skills and the importance of schooling and education,” James says.
The concept of volunteering abroad has changed and the traditional yearlong placement is waning in popularity. “A lot of people want to jump on and jump off quickly,” says James. “We encourage people to come for anything from one or two weeks, up to a full year.” But James promises that there’s still time to explore. “You’ll be living and working within a community and you’ll have free time in the evening and at weekends,” he says.
Out of hours the company offers volunteers social excursions. In South Africa they will take you on a local safari. Additional tours visit the township communities to see authentic African sculpture and woodcraft or dancing.
You can get more information on the range of placements, and the places where you can go, from SportingOpportunities.com.