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FIFA World Cup 2018: Scribe’s take - Of deadlines, bleary eyes and a drug called football

For journalists covering the FIFA World Cup, the tournament is a month-long hop-on-hop-offs through airports and stations and the event is of such great magnitude that cities became datelines and pit-stops

football Updated: Jun 10, 2018 11:24 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
FIFA World Cup 2018,2018 FIFA World Cup,Football
Journalists covering the FIFA World Cup face a variety of challenges, from logistics and the travel to various cities for the games.(Getty Images)

Bergisch Gladbach is a short train ride from Cologne and two days before their quarter-final against France, Brazil set up a training session at a school there. Session over, Robinho spoke to the media in a hall where even the air seemed Portuguese and since this wasn’t a conference conducted by FIFA, translation was like a concept from outer space. This is standard practice so, Brazil weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary.

Among the 50-odd journalists present, there were two whose knowledge of Portuguese didn’t stretch beyond ‘Obrigado’. One was writing for this paper, the other from a London daily. Fate brought us together in search of a taxi back to Cologne.

“How many of you are here,” I asked, after the introductions. “Eight on days England aren’t playing and 14 when they are,” he said. “And how many are there from your paper,” he asked. On being told, he looked as incredulous as he would have had England won the World Cup.

That is what my colleague Bhargab Sarmah and most others from India will face in Russia. Yes, there are places beyond the Kop that sing ‘you’ll never walk alone’ — as they did in Dortmund after Germany fell to the magic of Pirlo — but even metaphorically it isn’t meant for Indian journalists at football’s biggest show.

Therefore, my World Cups became a whirligig of trains in Germany; air miles in South Africa and a bus journey through the night from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town to see Brazil and Argentina go out on successive days and more plane rides in Brazil. They were month-long hop-on-hop-offs through airports and stations.

Cities became datelines and because they were almost always pit-stops, you kept asking yourself whether you were where you should have been. The Deutsche Bahn made it possible to have breakfast in Cologne, attend an event in Frankfurt, do a game in Dortmund and return to your hotel. Do it for a month and things could get blurry. So when a French journalist wondered aloud whether he was having short-term memory loss, empathy poured in.

The World Cups were also about hours in billowy white media tents where the food is overpriced but because they spend most of their days there, it is an off-side trap journalists can rarely beat. And they were about vertiginous media tribunes from where you wrote your two cents on a game, dashed some 10 floors to the conference room below to hear coaches and the man of the match give their two cents on it.

How you coped also depended on how you dealt with the elements. A chunk of the 2006 edition happened during Europe’s hottest summer in decades and an equal portion of that in 2010 coincided with South Africa’s bitterest winter in a long time. The sight of Caucasians in overcoats almost embracing the man-size blowers in Johannesburg just before Brazil trotted out to play North Korea are as fresh in my mind as that of the substitutes bench wrapped in layers of blankets. So, hours after Ji Yun-nam had livened up the game at Ellis Park, I was forced to make the trip to a supermarket to buy ear mitts to avoid a winter of discontent in June.

And they were about battling deadlines. By the time breakfast was served in Brazil, the day’s first editorial meeting would have been done in India. That often meant you were awake when Brazil slept and awake when they were too. Sleep patterns becoming as messy as the final turned out for Leo meant being jolted awake in the middle of the night thinking you will miss the flight from Brasilia to Belo Horizonte. On realising it was hours away, I finished writing on the Argentina-Belgium game. Two days later at a stadium not far from my lodgings, Brazil went to sleep in a manner they haven’t ever in a World Cup.

But if like the late Bobby Robson you need a daily fix of the drug called football, the World Cup is the place to be. The country hosting it is more vivacious and more helpful to visitors than it perhaps is at other times. And everything, down to fans wearing false eyelashes in their team’s colours, is around the beautiful game.

You share a media bus with Avram Grant and a media centre with Arsene Wenger, Ivan Zamorano, Tostao, Patrick Mboma and Zvonimir Boban, now the deputy secretary-general of Fifa but a journalist for an Italian channel in 2006, and you run into Mario Kempes by the men’s. You break stairs with Brian Glanville in Kaiserslautern mildly disputing his take on David Beckham being a one-trick pony, interview Geoff Hurst, Patrick Vieira and understand tactics from Gerard Houllier, who headed the Fifa Technical Study Group in 2014. And you are part of the Diego Maradona show, bling and all, that his press conferences in the small, dank hall in Pretoria always were. The World Cup lasts a month, the experience a lifetime.

-Dhiman Sarkar has covered the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups for Hindustan Times

First Published: Jun 10, 2018 11:23 IST