Have you ever thought of football as a language? Nearly half a century ago, the Italian film director and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini theorized that football itself, as a system of signs, is a language, only a non-verbal one, and he went further, terming the building unit of that language a podema (from the Ancient Greek πόδες, meaning feet), where a podema, or a word, is a kick of the ball and where players communicate through the combination of kicks and the discourse – even if not written or spoken – regulated by its own syntax is understood universally.
Yeah, that is a quite poetic explanation of football communication compared to the vivid body language that players and referees use on the field. And obviously neither the podemi nor the universal unified understanding, backed up by whistles and hand signals, were enough to prevent the nearly 10-minute hold-up at the 1966 FIFA World Cup when during a game between England, the host country, and Argentina, the Argentinian skipper Rattin refused to leave the field, insisting that a Spanish translator be called to explain to him the referee’s ruling (an expulsion). This incident resulted in the creation of the yellow and red cards as a way of universally communicating to the players and the public when there are disciplinary sanctions.
Today, though FIFA still prescribes and encourages the use of body language (referees’ whistles and hand signals to point out offsides, fouls and etc.), its officials are now required to speak English in addition to their native language, and are strongly encouraged to learn one of FIFA’s other official languages (Spanish, French, and German) as well; and seminars are conducted in English whenever a referee is to take part in an international match to ensure that verbal communication between players and referees that don’t share a common language will take place in English.
FIFA, itself, translates some impressive three million words per language per year, with the head of its Language Services Department confirming that English is, by far, the most common source language with a lot of time spent on editing and proofreading English source texts, especially those written by non-native speakers.
On an international level, English is the lingua franca of football but that does not mean that it is the only language of importance in the football universe.
Looking at the World Cup finalists since 1930, it has happened only once that a finalist has had English as its official language – and that was, indeed, England as a winner of the 1966 World Cup. German and Spanish top the list of the official languages of the finalists, followed by Portuguese, Italian and Dutch.
Scrolling forward to the highlight, the 2018 FIFA World Cup, that starts this week, and its linguistic multiplicity: 32 national teams have qualified out of 209, where the qualified teams feature a selection of over 20 official languages, with 36 referees and 63 assistants coming from 46 different countries, nearly 200 000 volunteers who applied from 190 countries, along with the projected 1.5 million fans to arrive from all corners of the world to Russia. And the host country that uses the Cyrillic alphabet script put significant efforts in tackling possible language barriers, for example the Moscow Metro’s official mobile app has been translated into six foreign languages (English, French, Spanish, Chinese, German and Portuguese), and a call centre in Moscow will provide further information regarding the city’s public transport system to the international visitors in five languages (English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese), the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute launched an educational online course to help all foreign volunteers learn Russian, and one of the leading Russian developers of machine translation solutions launched an application with a built-in football subject, along with adding names of stadiums, players, coaches and other information to make fans’ experiences of the World Cup equally rewarding regardless of the languages they speak.
And only a few example from the world of international media giants – Telemundo and Google partnered to bring more than 1,500 hours Spanish-language World Cup content to Google and Youtube for fans across the U.S.; Sony Pictures Network India will broadcast all the 64 World Cup games live in six languages (English, Hindi, Bangla, Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil) targeting an audience of over 100 million.
EVS Translations wishes you to enjoy the 2018 FIFA World Cup in the language or languages that best expresses your football emotions.