Another World Cup season is coming to an end, and as the semi-finals approach, it is time to take a look back at some of the stories that stood out during these past tournaments.
Although FIFA regulations once more strove to keep politics off the football field, a more penetrating look into the games inevitably laid bare a wider political and social reality — and many reporters used their skills to open a much more intricate discussion.
Below is a selection of some of the best reporting from the 2018 World Cup:
Held in the shadow of perhaps the biggest sports scandal in history that led to more than two dozen FIFA officials convicted of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering, the 2018 World Cup raised skepticism and eyebrows when the host country was announced.
Ken Bensinger, author of the book “Red card: How the U.S. blew the whistle on the world’s biggest sports scandal,” grippingly summarized the content of his over-300-page book in an article aimed at elucidating Russia’s involvement in the 2015 FIFA scandal.
Bensinger’s account is a stinging reminder of the behind-the-scenes action of the most-attended football event worldwide, and an invitation not to overlook the scandal’s political significance.
With the world’s eyes focused on Russia, sports reporter Jeré Longman took the occasion to shed light on the peculiar reality of football teams in Crimea.
Since 2014, Russia claims Crimea as Russian territory, but it is not recognized as such by FIFA and UEFA. As a result, football teams in the region found themselves compelled to start a new league in a sort of existential limbo.
The story expounds the interconnections between sports and geopolitics, and throws an original light on the human repercussions of the annexation of Crimea.
This year, once again, the World Cup was a fertile breeding ground of football heroes and engaging feature stories, from John Obi Mikel’s father kidnapping and Xhaka and Shaqiri’s controversial celebrations to Akinfeev’s spectacular save.
A special mention goes to the story of Iranian national football hero Alireza Beiranvand, who made headlines not only for saving a penalty by Cristiano Ronaldo, but also for his personal story.
Iranian football journalist Behnam Jafarzadeh explored the origin of the goalkeeper, born to a nomad family in the Lorestan Province of Iran with an innate passion for football. His story is as inspirational as it is enjoyable to read.
The topic of the abuse and exploitation of migrant workers during the construction of the stadiums ahead of the 2018 World Cup dominated the headlines last summer, but was effectively brushed under the green carpet once the games had started.
Angela Charlton and James Ellingworth looked at the economic and social effects of the phenomenon, analyzing Russia’s strategy in employing migrant workers as an effective system to obtain cheap labor and guarantee the completion of transport infrastructure and stadiums in a record time.
Their reporting, containing numerous interviews with migrants, offers a multifaceted picture of a global phenomenon, and addresses a recurring problem surrounding the quadrennial FIFA event.
Amid technological advancements and innovations affecting world football, such as the introduction of video-assisted referees (VAR), top-notch reporters could not miss this opportunity to season their work with the formidable quantity of data available.
FiveThirtyEight, one of the most acclaimed websites in transforming data into compelling stories, this year offered a vast selection of revelations based on meticulous data analysis.
One of the most brilliant stories, in terms of originality and analysis, was David Bunnell’s article “Which World Cup team is the best at wasting time?” in which the author looked at the leading teams’ enacted strategy of purposely delaying the game, systematically analyzing the triggers, trends and practices by different teams.
This article is one in a series of articles produced via a collaboration between IJNet and HackPack around the FIFA World Cup.
IJNet is the premier source of media innovation, training opportunities and expert advice for an audience of more than 170,000 professional and citizen journalists worldwide.\
HackPack is the on-demand marketplace and freelancer management tool that helps publishers find, pay and manage a community of over 12,000 journalists in 160 countries, so they can tell the stories that matter.
Main image CC-licensed by PublicDomainPictures.