Covering global sporting events through a non-sports lens

Oct 30, 2018 in Specialized Topics

When Germany defeated Argentina in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, an estimated 900 million people around the world were watching. Although the global viewership has yet to be determined for this year’s final match, it is expected to be on par with the 2014 data. According to preliminary data, Twitter recorded 115 billion impressions during the event.

This spike in viewership translates to a huge opportunity for sports reporters to capitalize on their global audience. There are games to cover, statistics to report and a wide audience active online, eager to discuss the action.

If you cover a non-sports beat, the World Cup can seem like a distraction from the news you generally cover. However, over the past few weeks IJNet has highlighted stories of every beat — from gender, politics, migration and more — all told through the lens of the games. We also asked our readers to share their examples.

Judit Alonso, a Spanish freelance journalist who covers the environment, wrote a piece for Deutsche Welle on a biodiversity initiative in Colombia from a local organization, Instituto Humboldt. The article was published immediately after the last Colombian match, joining the swarm of media attention focusing on the country.

“When everybody is focused in football results, a new lens can break this routine,” says Alonso. “It can be more attractive for people that are not so interested in sports, but in other topics.”

But when there’s so much going on, how can you find these new story ideas?

For Alonso, who didn’t have the opportunity to travel to the event, the key is to be savvy with social media. She recommends following hashtags and popular national and international accounts, but also exploring the accounts and activities of small, local organizations.

Chances are, you aren’t the only one trying to tie your work to the large sporting events taking place around the world. Local civil society organizations are also using the event — and subsequent media storm — to share their message, as was the case with Instituto Humboldt.

“In this information jungle, where [it’s] difficult to find new stories, following alternative media and civil society organizations can give you another view that escapes from mainstream media,” says Alonso.

If you do have a chance to visit an event, don’t let a lack of interest in sports hold you back, advises Seth Berkman, a freelance sports journalist who writes mainly for The New York Times and covered the 2018 Winter Olympics from Seoul.

“The best stories that come out of these events are those that don’t have anything to do with the games going on,” says Berkman.

He also suggests attending these events without a specific agenda, remaining flexible about what topics you’d like to cover since the flood of journalists to events can create a challenge for those trying to produce unique stories.

“If you’re going to the Olympics or the World Cup and you have a set of five or six stories you want to do, chances are, someone has already thought of those,” Berkman says. “Go there and take a day or two to survey the landscape and wade around. It seems cliche, but stories will start to come to you eventually.”

The influx of journalists is also a great opportunity to network with colleagues around the world. You can connect to bounce ideas off each other and plan collaborations.

“One thing I noticed about the Olympics were that the local authorities and the government were very helpful,” says Berkman, “always pushing out story ideas about the local area and willing to help with anything, whether information or statistics or interviews.”

Language barriers can pose a challenge, but it shouldn’t stop you from reaching out to locals. They have a wealth of knowledge and want to use the opportunity to bring attention to their community. At large events like the Olympics or World Cup, the saturation of media suggests that translators are nearby as well.

There may be four years until the next men’s FIFA World Cup, but the women take center-stage next year in France. Regardless of whether or not you like sports, don’t shut yourself off from the stories waiting to be told.

Main image CC-licensed by Unsplash via Sam Wermut.