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World Cup lessons for every sports journalist to heed

The FIFA World Cup is pictured at the city hall on May 25, 2006 in Hamburg, Germany. The FIFA World Cup will be presented to the public on May 26, 2006 in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
by Keir Radnedge, AIPS Football Commission Chairman

London, April 23, 2018 - The FIFA World Cup in Russia is just around the corner with not only tens of thousands of fans but several thousand media – television, radio, print, web – all descending on the country for the four-week football festival.

Almost all media representatives successfully navigated the accreditation system which swung into place immediately after the finals draw in the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow last December 1.

However, not every journalist was so fortunate and AIPS worked to help a number who tripped over problems either with their own football federation’s media department or with the technology.

One of the central problems which hamper access to major event media facilities is that journalists are generally so busy focusing on the work in hand – features, interviews, press conferences, etc - that accreditation slips down the priority queue.

Journalists working for major organisation are generally fortunate in that administrative staff take care of accreditation. However, continuing staffing cuts mean that more and more journalists are working freelance and must take on this responsibility themselves.

All major governing bodies, naturally, want to be in control of accreditation to their events. All use different systems, work to different timings, etc.

For example, journalists covering the Olympics know that accreditation operates through the national Olympic committees and the process can start anything up to two years in advance of the Games.

One reason is that Olympic accreditation also serves as a visa and hence involves the time-specific demands of host nation security departments.

By sharp contrast the FIFA World Cup accreditation operation is squeezed into just two months. Hence the national FAs need to be on the ball and so do the journalists. The tight timing is essential for approval and then pre-finals match allocation operation.

Domestic football associations are responsible for allocating the all-important access codes to journalists. The logic is that FAs know ‘their’ journalists far better than FIFA. FA-approved journalists must then apply through the FIFA Media Channel which means, in the first place, that interested journalists must already be registered with FIFA.

AIPS noted four problematic issues:

1, some FAs were very slow in issuing codes;

2, several FAs, whose national teams had not qualified for the finals, were not even interested in distributing the codes until kicked into action late in the day;

3, some journalists did not ‘attack’ accreditation until much too close to the January 31 deadline; and

4, some journalists had not taken care to keep their media channel information up to date (such as work status, employer, etc).

Those major FAs identified as guilty of tardy operation would say, in their own defence, that they confronted a heavy workload in terms of a large number of initially interested journalists.

The accreditation system – demanding not only approval by a domestic FA but approval for media channel registration – came in for criticism from a number of journalists as being over-officious.

However AIPS has no problem with any system which seeks to weed out the ‘football tourists’ who take up media tribune slots at the expense of professional colleagues.

Another issue which causes difficulties is the small number of non-rights-holding broadcast journalists who seek ‘print/web’ accreditation in the hope of being able to ‘broadcast’ via cellphone.

The lesson to be drawn applies to all journalists working across every sector of sport: Make sure your registration with the relevant governing bodies is up-to-date and then treat accreditation as a priority issue.

No-one will have any sympathy for the journalist who does not.

After all, this is a competitive industry and it’s in a reporter’s own interest. If the journalist doesn’t care enough then he/she does not deserve to be at the big event.

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