FIFA Speaking in Tongues

Before the start of the Brazil – Columbia World Cup quarter-final game, with teams lined up to swear national fidelity through their respective national anthems, the UK ITV viewing audience was told, confidently, by Clive Tyldesley the match commentator that “the two team captains will read out a statement condemning all forms of discrimination. The Brazil captain will speak in his national Portuguese and the Colombian captain in Spanish – and we will interpret”. And in the heat of a late afternoon cauldron of south American football fervour, this duly and reverently happened.

The message given by the two captains was unequivocally positive, wholly indisputable and loudly and warmly received by the 70 thousand already wilting in the Estádio Castelão who probably understood enough of both statements to get the message without any translation – such is the communality of Spanish and Portuguese. But without the intervention of our intrepid English-speaking match commentators and their 200 or so other native language colleagues in the FIFA media box, FIFA’s worthy words would not have reached the ears of the world. The translation heard by the UK audience was no more than a simple PR prepared script; it was probably within the translation abilities of most A-level language students – and really Clive, you didn’t translate it, that was done by FIFA; you just read it out, come on. But the significance of this unexpected, multi-translated statement was that FIFA had chosen to take advantage of their direct line to a global audience to speak indisputable platitudes about appropriate behaviour on the global stage, or at least on the global football field. FIFA know all about appropriate behaviour – or so they would like us to believe.

But whether or not this rather unsubtle high-profile, high-morality moment was designed to absorb the flak FIFA will continue to need to deflect before the start of their ludicrous anointment of Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals – FIFA will say that this statement is an annual event – much of their ambition would not have had the desired global impact without the statement being translated into the multiplicity of languages of the billions in the 214 or so countries watching at home on TV.

That a global TV audience was united in hearing FIFA platitudes shows that whilst translation might not always be demanding, it is always vital and that accuracy has to be absolute. I hope that the multiplicity of language versions were all up to scratch and that the global audience was duly instructed by the worthy FIFA statement. I just wished that Steven Gerrard had been there to mumble it on our behalf.