This article was published by the Daily Emerald on July 20, 2014.
There’s a maroon flag hanging from a third-story window at the Walton-Clark residence hall. The slinking fabric is the only indication Nagina Pirzad needs to locate her assignment: the Moroccan junior national track and field team. She, alongside two other women are one of 116 ambassadors from the University of Oregon who will guide the far-flung athletes around the campus and the city in the days leading up to the World Junior track and field championships.
The athletes began descending on the Pacific Northwest last week. One look around campus over the weekend harkens somewhat to Copacabana Beach in Brazil last month, with flags, representing the 176 countries participating that are draped over Oregon Hall or waving next to the Hayward Field track. Campus has been covered in camera-equipped people speaking a variety of languages while posing in front of Hayward’s gates and athletes wheeling luggage from team buses to the residence halls.
Pirzad, a junior in journalism and international studies, finally catches the attention of Rhizlane Siba, an 18-year-old high jumper and the first to arrive from the Moroccan squad. Locked out of the residence hall, Pirzad beckons in French for her to come downstairs and get introduced to the ambassadors.
“It’s our job to know when our team athletes are competing and stuff. We’re supposed to be there for the team whenever they need anything,” Pirzad said later. “Not really an errand boy, not entirely an interpreter. We’re the middle men between them and TrackTown [USA] or them and the university.”
Pirzad and her partners, Judy Alrasheed, who just graduated with an economics degree, and Megan Kupres, a human physiology and chemistry major, offer themselves as what they call “attachés.” There will be more than 1,700 athletes making their way into town, all under the age of 20. The three of them have charge over athletes from Morocco, Tunisia and Djibouti.
Though the athlete-to-ambassador ratio can seem overwhelming, the women talk excitedly about the upcoming meet.
“I feel like this is a learning experience for everyone. For TrackTown, for the U of O, for everyone,” Pirzad said. “Even the global ambassador program was kind of made up through the Office of International Affairs because they said ‘Wait, we have a lot of students with international experience and speak a bunch of languages we should get them to work closely with these athletes.’”
The students are part of the first ambassador program for the World Juniors. Eugene is the first city in the United States to host the six-day meet, something TrackTown USA has been working toward for two years. For both the international athletes and the sport’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federation, Eugene needs to be a great experience.