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The Africa Lifetime Experience

by Shaun Fuentes

FIFA Media Officer for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa

My first experience of South Africa came in June of 2003. I was into my third year as the Press Officer for the Trinidad and Tobago Men’s Senior Team and the country’s footballers were embarking on its first ever tour of the African continent for three international matches. The friendly against South Africa at the Telcom Stadium in Port of Elizabeth was the final of three in three different locations also including Kenya and Botswana. We had a short stop at initially in Johannesburg for a few days of training before journeying to Kenya and Botswana prior to returning to South Africa for the final match of the trip. Our team gave a decent showing but lost 2-1 to the home team which had already been announced as host nation of the 2010 FIFA World Cup and preparations for the world’s biggest sporting spectacle was underway.

I was 22 and wanted to make the best of the experience, thinking at the time that such a trip could well be a once in a lifetime experience. I hadn’t for a second imagined at the time that I would be back on South African soil for a game of footbal in a few yearl. Of course World Cup qualification for the 2010 tournament was still five or six years away and I wasn’t thinking that far.  Trinidad and Tobago would go on to qualify  for the 2006 World Cup in Germany and that experience was later followed by a 4-1 defeat away to Honduras in the CONCACAF final round of qualification in 2009 which meant all hopes of appearing at the South Africa 2010 World Cup with my country’s national team had vanished.

In 2009 I had spent just over thirty days in the Nigerian cities of Abuja and Kaduna as a FIFA Media officer at the FIFA Under 17 Men’s World Cup. It was an eye opening experience for me into the operations of FIFA and the way in which a world event of such magnitude was executed. I had the experience of working at the 2001 U-17 World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago but being based in Nigeria and handed the responsibility of overseeing all media operations as a FIFA official was of a next level.

This was my baptism into shouldering responsibilities on a stage where there was no margin for error. It was me and rest of the team in Kaduna, some eight of us who represented FIFA working along with the Nigerian Local Organizing Committee pushing ourselves beyond  limits. It was fulfilling and satisfying as we completed the task of successfully staging all eight matches including a quarter-final fixture at the venue.

As the pain of T&T’s World Cup qualification failure began to ease, I received a correspondence from FIFA informing me that I had been selected to join the FIFA pool of media officers to serve at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. So from wondering how on earth would I make it back to South Africa in 2003, I was now preparing for two back to back trips in 2010. First up was the FIFA Workshop in Sun City in February of 2010, an exhilarating three days of preparations and meeting of all other FIFA staff members for the highly anticipated spectacle that would follow in June. It was my second visit to Sun City as back in 2003 we had the pleasure of stopping for a few hours for a lunch gathering.

The luxurious entertainment was the centerstate that welcomed representatives from all 32 participating teams, along with FIFA staff for the Team Workshop which took place between 22-24 February. I recall arriving with other  guests gathered in a traditional African Boma tucked deep in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.

The workshop was billed as a crucial meeting of head coaches, team managers and general secretaries and is a mandatory appointment for the official and technical specialists, including media officers, security managers and team doctors. It provided a detailed introduction and insight for the teams and officials on every aspect of the tournament organisation.

This workshop was also aimed at everyone who would play a key role in the staging of the World Cup and because of that it brought us back to the essence of football, back to the field of dreams. While I was there in a different capacity, the occasion brought back delightful memories for me as I had experienced something similar as a member of the Trinidad and Tobago backroom staff as the press officer for a similar Teams workshop in Dusseldorf, Germany in 2006.

The proceedings in Sun City were characterized by high spirits and a celebratory atmosphere amongst coaches; the very same men who would later lead their teams into battle for football’s biggest prize. The main team workshop saw 19 coaches and representatives from all 32 countries sit down and discuss key matters. Germany’s Joachim Low, England’s Fabio Capello, Brazil’s Dunga, Carlos Queiroz (Portugal) and Raymond Domenech (France) were just some of the coaches in attendance. Overseeing the team workshop was an expert panel including FIFA Executive Director of Competitions Jim Brown and Head of Refereeing José Maria García-Aranda.

On my side, the FIFA head of media Alain Le Blang led the media operations workshop which lasted for just under three days.

The workshop media activities commenced on Monday 22 February at 10am with the opening of the media centre but those activities were only available for media representatives accredited before the deadline, which had now been closed.

The media officers received their match assignments and got to interact with the rest of the team who would be working alongside each other at the competition. I met for the first time my traveling companion, Jochen Steinhoff who was a media officer at UEFA and today serves as one of FIFA’s lead media managers in Zurich.  We were assigned to work in two cities, Polokwane and Nelspruit and would be floating between the two venues for all matches.

The following were the teams to play in Nelspruit - Group D: Australia, Serbia;

Group F: Italy, New Zealand; Group G: Korea DPR, Côte d’Ivoire; Group H: Honduras, Chile

And for Polokwane, it was set to look like this - Greece, Argentina, Paraguay, New Zealand, Algeria, Slovenia, France and Mexico all playing  first round matches at  newly built state of the art venue. The France-Mexico game was one of the high profile matches earmarked for the city. Another mouth-watering clash would see Paraguay take on New Zealand, whilst the other interesting encounter would see Greece go head to head with Argentina. Already Jochen and myself were buzzing about having Diego Maradona (then head coach) and Leo Messi playing at our venue.

There was some other items grabbing the international headlines that week as FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke had said to the media that South Africa still wasn't ready to host the World Cup. With barely three months remaining before the event, it was reported that organisers still faced problems with Soccer City — the incomplete Johannesburg venue for the opening match and final — filling stadiums, and handling the intense scrutiny on Englands proposed training camp.

“If the question is 'Could we host the World Cup tomorrow morning?' the answer is no,” Valcke said on the Tuesday after the workshop meeting in Sun City.

By the time June had come around, the objective was clear. As part of the team selected to perform  FIFA Communication tasks at the FIFA World Cup, I was expected to perform my  duties as efficiently as possible.  

I had in my possession the FIFA Communications handbook which contained many chapters mainly dedicated to the crucial media operations work of us FIFA Media Officers (FMO’s). It was made clear to us that it was important to all people involved to be informed on the overall communication and how the different services were linked to each other.

The quality of service provided by the FIFA Communication team would be  based on the following: Preparation:  For FIFA  it was important that all communications people had the same background information and approach problems on the basis of the common policy outlined in the handbook.

Flexibility: our primary function was to help the media do their job under the best possible conditions, which may sometimes involve bending our own rules; we were to do this at your own discretion, but make it clear that we  were making an exception which should not become a rule.

Co-operation: as a FIFA Media Officer, were had to form a team of our own, but would also work in close co-ordination with the Venue Media Officers of the Local Organising Committee, a number of entities from FIFA’s Communications & Public Affairs Division and FIFA Marketing, as well as with our colleagues from Deltatre, FIFA Broadcaster Servicing Team (FBST) and the Host Broadcaster team (HB).

Commitment: the success of the competition’s media operations and overall communication required total commitment from all involved.

Team spirit: success is only possible as a team. It was not about personal rewards. Mistakes happen – however, the point is never whose fault it is, but rather ‘how do we solve it?’ Remember – only those people who never do anything don’t make mistakes.

An lastly, Enjoyment. We were told  the more we enjoy our work, the better we would perform, and vice-versa.

I had to work closely with Wolfgang Resch who  was the FIFA Media/Communications Manager – responsible for the overall media operations in the venues and operations for various press conferences such as the Organising Committee and Presidential events. I had worked with Wolfgang on my first FIFA appointment in Nigeria a year earlier and we later went on to also work at the 2013  FIFA Under 20 Men’s World Cup in Turkey. He was a perfect model and pillar of support throughout.  The rest of the FIFA team comprised of individuals such as Walter De Gregorio as FIFA Director of Communications & Public Affairs, Nicolas Maingot as his deputy and Pekka Odriozola as Head of Media Department who were all always very supportive and provided advice and guidance whenever necessary. Maingot had been employed by FIFA as a media officer since 2001, previously holding a similar position at the French football association (FFF). We worked together at the 2001 FIFA Under 17 Men’s World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago when I was attached to the Local Organizing Committee and served as media officer of the Trinidad and Tobago team.

The role  of a FIFA Media Officer (FMP) included overseeing all media ticketing at the venue, coordinating immediate post-match interviews with coach and players, moderating the press conferences and with the overall responsibility for all media at the venue.  Unlike FIFA Youth World Cups where there was one FIFA Media Officer overseeing a venue as had been the case when I served at the U-17 Finals in Nigeria, FIFA assigns four media officers for Senior World Cups. So my team included two well experienced veterans from UEFA in Frits Alstrom and Andre Franceoli who had years of experiences and a combination of ten World Cups between them. These two men were the senior FMOs and in some ways like the professors to the younger ones like myself and Jochen. Stacey Gruen of the United States was also part of the team in Nelspruit while Gordon Watson of New Zealand teamed up with us in Polokwane. The other Media officers from Concacaf who were selected  among the final 37 for the 2010 World Cup included Steve Torres, Michael Johnson, Bryan Chenault, Carlos Guzman, Richard Scott, Mariana Soto, Stephana De La Torre.

It was clear to understand that we had to be careful with who we were conversing and passing information to as it was obvious that there was attention from everywhere for the world’s biggest sport event and there would be some who would look to create stories by any means necessary.

Odriozola said to us, “Unfortunately, we have already seen cases where media have been speaking with FIFA representatives at the hotels without introducing themselves as media and later those private conversations have been published. We would like to remind you once again to be very cautious when you are speaking with people that you do not know, even when you think it is a casual conversation.”

That piece of guidance has stuck with me ever since and I’ve always passed it on to event staff since then.

Communication with was also a key part of our operations. We were emphasised upon  to not hesitate to pass on interesting or quirky details we’d learn about anything connected to the competition to any of the editors. They always welcome any idea for a story and the FMO’s had a unique relationship with the teams and stadium personnel, and sometimes some really great stories come out of what only we would see as FMOs

A major part of any FMO’s job is to provide as much information as he reasonably can. We had to always try to stay informed of developments in and around the  World Cup in order to be able to pass on this information quickly and accurately.

 The response “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out” is infinitely better than giving the wrong answer, we were advised. Additionally  there were  inevitably a number of questions which were best avoided or which, for political reasons, should be passed on to the FIFA head of media.  In case of a delicate issue like a doping case or suspensions, statements would only be given from the FIFA Headquarters.

All FMOs were  encouraged to communicate with each other on matters that directly concern them on a bilateral level, for example to keep each other informed of latest team and match news, and of problems and solutions that have arisen. We were also advised to consult the other FIFA communications people in their respective field of responsibility (, etc). This was of particular importance before the third round group stage matches and the knock-out phase. After each matchday, when teams were changing venues, I had to provide a  a short update on the teams at my venue (main contact, languages at press conferences, general media following the team, challenges, etc.). The file was confidential and was to be circulated to all FMOs. All FMOs received South African mobile phones during their stay and  within the stadium.

The FMOs in each venue was equipped on match-days with headset walkie-talkies, sharing the same channel as the LOC media staff.  In addition, the FMOs were in regular meetings with the  venue General Coordinator as well as the rest of the FIFA staff at my venue in areas such as Marketing,  Security, Protocol,  VIP and Hospitality, Travel and Accommodation, Venue Management, Venue Broadcast etc. These ongoing interactions proved to valuable to my future understanding and execution of general operations in the staging of football matches and events both at the interntional and local levels.

The non-matchdays  in-between games were also hectic at the venues as the FIFA media centre remained opened and provided all local and international journalists with a facility from which to operate. And the list of media was constantly changing as new teams arrived to play matches. The batch of of media volunteers from the South Africa Local Organising Committee were enthusiastic and disciplined. They were keen to carry out their duties and it was joy working with them. I had a responsibility to ensure they understood the operations and executed diligently but we also had to ensure they enjoyed every moment and could take the experience with them for the remainder of their lives.

“It’s a privilege and honour to be one of the FIFA media officers at the World Cup. This is really a great recognition for my work so far, which is why I am grateful to colleagues in FIFA who appointed me, but also to everyone in the Federation who supported me. At the same time, the confidence that I received, brings a great responsibility, but this is another challenge that I am very happy about”, said Slavica Pecikoza for the official site of the Federation.

This was the third World Cup for her, and there were only few persons who had the opportunity to see the world’s largest football festivals from three different angles, as a journalist, a team press officer and now as a FIFA media officer.

LOC communications manager Tumi Makgabo in her presentation on ‘The Road Ahead’, highlighted that the key players were the host cities themselves. She emphasised: “This is not just about South Africa, but about the continent and we are in the process of engaging with stakeholders across the continent.

In turn, Tim Modise, head of the LOC Communications Portfolio, said that the 2010 FIFA World Cup presented an opportunity to collaborate with all stakeholders in a dynamic partnership based on integrity and excellence.

He outlined the principles of the broad strategy of the LOC: South Africa is merely a stage of the African World Cup: the rest of the continent is the theatre and rest of continent must see and experience the world cup. “This is an African Celebration and must be presented through sports, arts and culture, showcasing our unique history and heritage.”

We as media officers for FIFA liased closely with the LOC Media on a daily basis during the entire toirnament. The key objectives of the LOC’s media strategy was,

  1. To promote the FIFA world cup and host a world class event.

  2. Promote African excellence.

  3. Legacy development of the continent.

  4. Promote the FIFA message of peace and fraternity of nations in the spirit of fair play.

  5. To communicate professionally and effectively.

  6. Position the country and continent as world class destinations where excellence is promoted and celebrated.

  7. Communication messages should instill pride and confidence in our people.

South Africa’s status in international spheres of tourism and investment was significantly bolstered by the successful staging of the World Cup in 2020 and it was indeed an honour to serve at this once in lifetime first World Cup on African soil.

As LOC spokesperson Rich Mkondo put it, "the World Cup was never designed to “cure social ills”. It may, however, serve as a catalyst for development and economic upliftment. It was also a simple opportunity for the world to sit back and enjoy 30 days of the beautiful game.



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