So “the greatest show on earth” ended on Sunday after giving billions of people around the world an opportunity to experience quality football over an entire month.
The press played a major role in making it possible for the regular and the once-in-four-years fans of football to be involved in the World Cup of 2018. Television, of course, brought the action live to viewers. Newspapers, radio and online publications did no less in providing daily coverage, analyses and sideshows of all the action.
Scroll.in gave us all this and more. It may not have the resources to send a reporter to Russia who would then have to travel around for the more important matches, but both the news and the analyses it put out were comprehensive.
There was first the run-up to the World Cup with articles on the history of the event and of past tournaments. When the World Cup kicked off, there were daily reports drawn from the agencies. The insights into matches, teams and the performance of individual players were provided in the commentary of many Scroll.in writers. You may or may not have agreed with all the analyses but that is the point of such commentary – to get the fan with strong opinions engaged with the writing.
Then there was the live blog too of almost all the matches. I initially wondered why someone who would want to follow a World Cup match live would track the game on the blog and not watch it on television. But apparently the live blogs drew a large number of readers.
There were the delightful titbits too, drawn mainly from agency feeds but of no less value. From stories about what it meant for Iranian women to sit for the first time in decades in a stadium and watch the game, even if on a video screen, to the Kolkata fan who painted his house in the colours of Argentina, we could participate in the global fervour.
The Field section is just about two years old. Yet, it has already shown that it can rise to the occasion of a major sporting event and stand up alongside established news organisations with greater experience and much more resources.
The game and beyond
That said, there remained gaps in Scroll.in’s coverage. The biggest sporting event of the world’s most popular sport should be an occasion to take the coverage and analysis much beyond the tournament. It is an opportunity to discuss the many social phenomena around the game – the players, the fans, the adulation, the organisation of the sport, and so much more. There is also a dark side to “the beautiful game” that we cannot hide from: racism, spectator violence, gender discrimination, commercialisation, aggressive nationalism and much else.
If we do not talk about all this at a time when the world’s attention seems to be on the game, which comes only once in four years, when will we? This was an opportunity for Scroll.in to push the boundaries of coverage of the World Cup. I think it did not grasp the opportunity. You saw very little that went beyond the football field.
To be fair, there were some pieces that looked at the larger issues.
There were two very interesting articles of a series on how Croatia built itself up to be a football powerhouse (one on the organisation of football in the country and the other on a Zagreb club). The two, however, were on football per se though on the organisation of the sport. Another article fleetingly discussed ethnicity in French football over the past three decades.
I was particularly moved though by this article that looked at football in the old Yugoslavia, and at how its constituent countries were seeing Croatia’s success.
But given the occasion and the time available (an entire month), there were too few articles on the wide spectrum of subjects connected to football. True, it is not always possible to find writers who can address topics like racism, violence and discrimination. Scroll.in does, however, have access to articles published in that depository of fine commentary, The Conversation, which says it publishes articles with “academic rigour, journalistic flair”. Over the past month, The Conversation did put out many articles on the issues around football. Scroll.in did not access the better ones and a couple of those that it chose were trivial.
Hits and misses
The Conversation had this interesting piece on why FIFA 2018 should have been called the “Men’s” World Cup, this article on tensions in football in a divided France, this one on the domestic violence that takes place when important football matches take place in or involve England, and even this one on the social responsibility of football. (The entire set of articles on the World Cup that The Conversation published can be found here.)
Scroll.in, instead, published two superficial pieces from The Conversation: this one on how players’ rendition of the national anthem affects team performance and the other on social media and the World Cup. There was one interesting article from The Conversation on a tournament organised by teams from homelands without an affiliated federation. That was an exception though.
The next (men’s) World Cup in football is four years away. One hopes Scroll.in’s coverage will be richer at the time and go beyond the football field.
As the classy, wise and politically aware Brazilian footballer from the 1980s, Socrates, is reported to have once said: “There is more to life than football.”
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