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The sporting army who keep on giving

They are the unsung heroes of sport, the fertile soil in which the grass roots can thrive.

They often go unseen and are usually unheard, but without the work of volunteers then most sports would quickly shrivel and some might die out completely.

Imagine a world where no-one marked out the pitches, where no-one collected the subs, and the injured were left to fend for themselves.

Tremble at the thought of no sandwiches in the clubhouse, no urns of tea or biscuits, no lifts given, no buses booked, no grass cut, no accounts made up, and stinking, dirty kit for eternity.

Think about sport without most referees or umpires, without the vast majority of coaching, without medics or physios, or fixture lists, competition dates, where there's no mentors, no father - or mother - figures, no guiding hands, no-one to point the way, or wag a finger when boundaries are crossed.

It would be chaos, anarchy. And that kit wouldn't smell too good, either.

This month (June 1-7) has seen Volunteers Week, the giant UK-wide thank you to givers of time everywhere, in every possible area.

Welsh sport has been joining in the applause, too, celebrating those who donate their precious hours for the benefit of others.

Volunteers' stories in Welsh sport are many and varied. Take Richard Jenkins, for example, a Welsh volunteer athletics official who gives up his time for regular competitions.

An athlete might run a personal best, or throw further than ever before, they might break a Welsh record, or even a UK, or European or world one. But if there is no one there to record that effort, it's no more use than a rumour.

"I'm here to allow athletes to achieve what they want to achieve in their dreams," says Richard.

"If I'm not there, they're not going to be able to do it. You can have as many coaches as you like coaching the athletes, but unless you've got officials at the meeting, it's a waste of time."

His fellow athletics volunteer Chris Price says: "I never really had the background in athletics.

"The only athletics involvement I ever had was doing the cross country in school. I was okay at that but I never really took it on any further.

"When it came to officiating, I got involved because my kids were competing. They are both now officials themselves."

The same level of dedication can be found in so many other sports. Golf, cycling and sailing are three others that simply couldn't provide an introduction, development and competition in their respective activities, if it was not for an army of volunteers.

All three regularly give recognition to their volunteers through individual awards and the influence of those helping hands can be immeasurable.

Welsh Olympic gold medallist Elinor Barker has spoken of the importance of volunteers in her early years as a cyclist and says: "I have so many great memories of growing up with cycling in Wales.

"Race organisers, as well as the clubs, create lots of different opportunities for people to get involved as volunteers, so it doesn't matter if you can't make it to an event every week.

"For parents, it's also great way to inspire your kids to get involved with a great sport that keeps you fit at the same time as meeting new friends.

"Without volunteers there would be less opportunities for people to train, compete and just enjoy their sport in a safe environment."

It can be hard to put a value on what volunteering is worth to Welsh sport - especially when it has been estimated there are around 180,000 volunteers and those people are averaging 250,000 hours of their time each week. *

But researchers at Sheffield Hallam University tried to do exactly that and suggested volunteers created a social return on investment of over £950m.**

In 2017, volunteers were said to contribute £311.76m worth of value through the time they provide, while volunteering in sport was found to be associated with improved subjective well-being and greater life satisfaction to the tune of £645.92m.

But here's the really big secret about volunteering. It's not all about altruism. It actually does you good.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations say it's been proven that helping out others makes you feel good and improves the volunteer's own well-being.

What better excuse does anyone need?

As Richard Jenkins says: "It makes me feel happy, too. If I didn't get that feeling from volunteering, then I wouldn't do it."

*Figures from the National Survey for Wales, 2016/17

** Figures from the Wales Social Return on Investment (SROI) model, which measures the SROI for sport in 2016/17.