Sports Journalism: Covering FIFA 2018

From June to July 2018, Russia will host the 2018 FIFA World Cup in 11 cities. To make sure you’re ready, we organized another secret meet up with some top professionals who focus on sports coverage.

Secret MeetUps

Every two months, we organize events in interesting locations with great experts. We choose a select number of attendees, so you improve your career, meet fellow colleagues and build your local community.

If you missed it, here are the best bits!

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From left to right: Justin Varilek (, Alexander Kuzmak (Sport FM), Igor Bogachev (Lev Media Group) and Alec Luhn (The Daily Telegraph) at the restaurant Duma

1) How do you rock an interview with an athlete?

Alec Luhn (The Daily Telegraph)

It’s tricky to get an athlete to open up. You have to keep asking the same question.

In the days leading up to a match with England, I interviewed the football player Roman Shirokov. The publication wanted to go over the finer details of his career and the complex recent history of Russia’s national team. It isn’t very tactful, but I asked again and again the same question. He would answer with a few words, then I’d have to rephrase the question and come back with it. Each time he would add a bit more and a bit more until I had the whole story.

Alexander Kuzmak (SportFM)

Sincere interest is what is most important. Otherwise, you are left with bland answers to bland questions. You should be interviewing someone who you want to actually learn about and make them believe it. When I was filming a documentary about the hockey player Pavel Bure, we spent a lot of time just walking and talking. Only then did he trust me enough to open up.

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Alexander Kuzmak and Igor Bogachev

2) Are sports and politics ever separate?

Alec Luhn: Major events like the Olympics or the World Cup are just one big political feat. They portray an image of the country and its leadership. When Russia hosted the Winter Olympics, everyone acted as if Russia was presenting itself to the world. So I see big sporting events as big politics. And it will be these political questions that interest international publications.

Also, in Russia football exists mostly due to taxpayer financing. There are only a few teams which actually can financially support themselves. Even in the USA, the government often builds stadiums using taxpayer money and how to decide which stadiums to build and where becomes a political decision.

What will be the most interesting stories from the World Cup?

Alexander Kuzmak:

I believe it will be how the world gets to know Russia. The opportunity for British and French fans to travel to Russia and see the Monument Slavy in Samara and its fantastic view of the Volga or see the location in Yekaterinburg where the Czar was shot. How the fans take in Nevsky Prospect, the Hermitage and see really what is Russia. That will be a big story.

Igor Bogachev (LevMedia)

The main story will be how Russians begin to fall in love with football. Only 5–10% of Russians are actually interested in sports. The TV stations will produce more information about the athletes. But people are concerned that after the World Cup, the financing for football will dry up. But the most interesting story will be whether all this hype can create results and a culture of attending games and playing sports.

Advice for journalists covering the games:

  • Work out all the logistics in advance — where are the teams living, how to actually get into the stadiums and the press centers.
  • Get on your accreditation now — there will be many closed events and security is on high alert. Get your accreditation early
  • The earlier the better — movement will be very limited due to high security and limited infrastructure. Make sure you can actually arrive on time by being there far earlier than expected
  • Schedule interviews in advance — there will be a mixed-zone to get the attention of athletes but everyone is there and you never get what you want. You’ll only attain the good interviews by agreeing with the individual in advance
  • Become friends with the PR offices — famous athletes will more or less only be accessible through their PR handlers. Be friends with them and work through them to attain your interviews. At the very least make sure they know your face.
  • Search for stories off the beat and grind — the best stories will be outside of the press approved areas. Walk around the cities, get with the fans and eat with the players. That’s how you’ll make your mark on the games.
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Alexander Kuzmak: TV presenter, sports commentator, and press attaché for the Russian National Hockey team. He has worked for MatchTV, NTV-Plus and since 2006 he has led programs on SportFM.

Igor Bogachev: General director for Lev Media Group, one of the leading video production studios focusing on sport. From 2002–2008, he worked as a sports commentator on TV Tsentr where he was the commentator for the Hockey World Cup games. He also led the program Vesti on TV channel Rossiya.

Alec Luhn: Moscow correspondent for The Daily Telegraph. He previously worked at The Moscow Times and covered the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia for The Independent and other publications.

How’s it work:
You apply to attend, we select about 35–50 participants, then two days before, we announce to selected members exactly where the event will be. You then meet colleagues truly interested in the topic and learn how to improve your career. Currently, we are only organizing these in Berlin and Moscow, but if you are interested in starting a Pack in your city, let us know via Facebook or Twitter!

Special thanks to our partners Club Zhurnalist and MediaToolbox.

Photo credits: Ekaterina Sviridova

Text: Anastasia Papandina

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