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Matinee Blog

How Global is the World Cup?

The FIFA World Cup is now well under way, and the world looks on in excitement as our nations’ best players compete in this global football tournament. But how ‘global’ is the World Cup? How many countries and peoples does it represent? Who is it promoted to, and what languages are catered for?

2014 World Cup Logo

2014 World Cup Logo

We know football first gained real popularity in Europe, and the European leagues still hold great interest across the world, with the colours of European teams, such as Manchester United and Réal Madrid, being worn from Brighton to Bangkok. But, while many of the best-known teams and players may be European, or at least play in Europe, the sport is undeniably popular across the world, as devoted fans from South Korea, Ghana, Argentina or Singapore will tell you. One source states that 1 in 10 people globally support Manchester United – that’s 650 million people!

Manchester United Fans in Asia

Football has global reach: Hundreds of Manchester United fans in an Asian airport waiting for the team to arrive

But all these billions of fans worldwide speak thousands of languages, so how does an international event such as the World Cup 2014 cater for these different people? What translation services are put in place by the hosts, the participating nations, and the broadcasters of this global event?

The Languages of the World Cup

While the official languages of Europe-based FIFA are English, French, German and Spanish, these by no means account for the totality of the languages spoken by the World Cup’s viewership, which is truly global. Each FIFA member country is responsible for the translation from one of the official languages in to their country’s own language – meaning there is already a huge market for translation services.

There are 32 national teams participating, which between them hold 18 official languages, and many other recognised local languages. Of these languages, by far the most popular, in terms of nations speaking them, are Spanish, French and English, which account for the official languages of nearly all of the teams from the Americas (excluding only Brazil), as well as a significant amount of the teams from Africa, not to mention the teams of the languages’ native nations.

The host nation, Brazil, has Portuguese as its official language, so many of the ceremonies and presentations will be presented in Portuguese, as well as English, which is the modern world’s lingua franca.

Vamos Brasil

One of the many phrases you’ll be sure to hear from Brazilian fans!

Aside from the countries represented in the world cup, there will still be millions of viewers around the world supporting foreign teams, or simply eager to watch great football. Of these viewers, many will be catered for by the ‘big’ languages already represented by national teams, such as Spanish and English, though there will be very strong demand for Arabic and Chinese broadcasting, as well as more localised languages in regions where a majority do not speak an easy-to-franchise European language.

Many of these countries will have multiple official or non-official languages. For instance, people speak mainly Arabic in Algeria, but also speak French, and Tamazight. In these places, the main official language will be broadcast on national channels, but locals may have the option of watching foreign broadcasts – in this instance, in French – if they find the footage and commentary favourable.

In many countries where there is a main official language, it will be uneconomic for local stations to provide commentary or translation into multiple local and ethnic languages, so the dominant language will be used – for instance, Welsh-speaking citizens of Britain will watch the English broadcasts.

Of course, all of these broadcasters will use the services of an audio-visual translation company, to a greater or lesser degree. Even for the main channels, who have their own broadcasting team present and commentating at matches, audio-visual translation will still be necessary for interviews with foreign players, and any major announcements. For franchise channels who broadcast others’ film and commentary, audio-visual translation will definitely be required. This will take the form of subtitled text added to the visual, with the original audio left intact, something that requires a fast, skilled professional to perform. For many of these channels, hiring the services of an external audio-visual translation agency who specialise in voice-over translation or a subtitling agency will be the most economic option. Audio-visual translation services will also be required by corporate sponsors and other companies who want to take advantage of footage from the World Cup in their communications materials.