Sport: the language of international love?

15 August 2021

The top 10 most-watched sports events in the history of television are: 

  1. The Fifa World Cup - audience reach: 3.5 billion
  2. Tour De France - audience reach: 2.6 billion
  3. Olympic Games - audience reach: 2 billion
  4. UEFA Champions League - audience reach: 1.7 billion
  5. FIFA Confederations Cup - audience reach: 1 billion
  6. Asian Games - audience reach: 986-million 
  7. Rugby World Cup - audience reach: 789-million
  8. Giro d’Italia - audience reach: 775-million
  9. Winter Olympics - audience reach: 478-million
  10. Cricket World Cup - audience reach: 400-million”

Data courtesy of Huffington Post 

And with viewing numbers that consistently smash the billion mark, sporting events are the ultimate marketing channel for the global sports market, a piece of the economic pie currently worth almost $400 billion.

We may not all be obsessive sports fans, but most of us can admit to getting caught up in the rush of sporting events once in a while. 

Whether your national team reaches the finals, or your country’s hosting the Olympics, there’s joy in the community spirit created by these events. But building this community takes work. International events unite people and their languages from all over the world. But how do bodies like FIFA and the Olympics make these events globally accessible? 

Let’s break down the globalization strategy. 

Global translation for an international gathering 

Turning sport into a world-uniting activity is no small task.

FIFA, the Federation Internationale de Football Association, has 211 member associations worldwide, with 32 nations participating in the World Cup every four years. To make football more inclusive, accessible and global, FIFA works with participant nations to spread football across the world, capturing the hearts and minds of billions of viewers who tune in globally.  

But making the game accessible means some heavy-duty translation services. According to Caitlin Stephens, FIFA’s Deputy Head of Language Services, their department translates some three million words per language, per year. FIFA currently has four official languages, French, English, Spanish and German, so it makes perfect sense that a global body like FIFA has a dedicated language service department to support the constant stream of linguistic requirements. 

And then there are the ‘unofficial’ languages—a whole list of other languages spoken by nations, teams, fans, and staff. Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Portuguese and Dutch are just a handful of the listed languages that keep supporting translation companies worldwide busy behind the scenes, so everyone who wants to share in the buzz of the game can connect to the experience in their language of choice. 

But what kind of translation and localization does a magnificent global sporting event require? 

Let’s take the FIFA World Cup in Qatar 2022, for example. 

Marketing, advertising and PR material are at the top of any sporting event’s translation list because, in the run-up to the event itself, the host nation has to inform the entire global, football-loving population about the event and its details. 

Legal and financial translations for logistic-heavy sporting events are a sector unto themselves. Sponsorship deals. The responsibilities of sponsors, supplier agreements for services like the technology used. Insurance cover, construction permits, environmental care. Employment contracts. The list goes on. 

The industry-specific translation is another layer of linguistic consideration for language service providers. You need talented, knowledgeable, expert linguists who understand sporting terminology and how these rules and regulations translate into reports and rulebooks for participants, fans, employees, and stakeholders alike. 

How do you host the world’s biggest sporting event anyway?

So how is Qatar gearing up to welcome over a million projected international visitors? How does a country like Tokyo prepare for the worldwide attention demanded by the Olympic Games? Let’s just say there’s a reason both the World Cup and the Olympic Games are only held every four years. 

Qatar has spent 11 years building the 80,000 seater Lusail Stadium and a whole new city. Guests can choose from 22 new hotels and spend their free time playing golf, go-karting, or dune-surfing. 

As this is the first time the World Cup has been hosted in the Middle East, all eyes will be on the region. Qatar is leaving nothing to chance to deliver what it calls ‘the best-connected football tournament ever’, by ensuring fans can engage with the tournament fully, regardless of their language or location. 

Going beyond translation, Qatar is looking to the future of football as a global symbol and universal pastime that brings us together. Most of the eight stadiums feature modular designs that allow 50% of the seating to be dismantled and donated to football projects worldwide after the tournament. Now that’s a globalization effort worth shouting about! 

An Olympic Challenge

Another global sporting event, the Olympic Games, sees 206 countries come together to participate in 339 events representing 33 different sports. It’s customary for announcements to be made in English, French and the host country’s language. But French is generally recognised as the primary language. This is due in large part to the games’ founding by a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin, in 1896.

But there’s a more practical reason too. French is spoken as a first language by 80 million people and as a second language by 190 million. It’s the official language of global institutions including the United Nations and the WTO. Meanwhile, English is spoken by 1,348 million people worldwide. And 360 million of that number speak it as a first language. So you could say the Olympic Committee is making a ‘safe’ majority-language choice with English and French.

But of course, with billions tuning in, broadcasters, commentators and press conferences will still require translation and interpretation services in a global array of languages, to make the games accessible to a worldwide audience. 

A narrow language choice like French and English makes us wonder: Is it time for the Olympics to take a leaf out of FIFA’s globalization strategy and add a few more languages to its official language list?

So much more than ‘just a game’

Pierre de Coubertin saw the Olympic Games as a sporting event and a way to bring together competing countries and promote peace. The famous five rings were designed to symbolise the unity of the five continents. Yet, a global game with the power to bring people together in their billions also has the potential to drive people apart.

 If the translation is inaccurate, hasn’t been fully localized, or is inaccessible to specific locales, people will switch off. 

e-Arabization is here to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Because when we’ve been kept apart for so long, the power of sport bringing us back together is one we can all get behind and support. 

If your business wants to score with fully localized, translated content that reaches global audiences, chat with us today and let’s plan how we can take your message to the masses.