Linguistic Challenges at The World Cup in Qatar

The global outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic paved the way for high-tech innovations, putting the 2022 World Cup on the digital path in a way we have never seen before.
Gabriel Polycarpo
2 min
Table of Contents

However, if on one side the benefits of streamlining strategies create a favorable outlook among the different sectors of the market, on the other side, keeping up with a digital World Cup poses a big challenge for those in the translation industry.The sector is the first to suffer the side effects of a world that requires information to be delivered at an increasingly faster pace – as if on a never-ending cut-down run, as was the case with the following situation during the 2022 World Cup.

The case: a disastrous interpretation mistake in Qatar

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Paulo Bento

South Korea coach Paulo Bento. Source: koreatimes.[/caption]An unfortunate interpretation error at a press conference that preceded the match between Korea and Ghana just a couple days ago caused Korean spectators to believe that Paulo Bento, head coach for the Korean team, stated that two players, Kim Min-jae and Hwang-Hee chan, would be sitting out at the next day’s match. Although the information was partially true, that was not what Mr. Bento said. Of course, a complaint ensued.

Peculiarities of translation in the sports field

Translationin the sports field might get very technical. There are hundreds of terms related to ball control, equipment, results, pitch, supporters and stadiums that require strong memorization and translation skills. Think of the following idioms expressions related to football:

  • bicycle kick
  • fluke (goal, pass)
  • to park the bus
  • aggregate score
  • all-seater stadium

Luckily, for the referees, universal gestures suffice. But for the rest of the speaking public any errors are replicated fast.Consider the fact that there are 32  teams participating in the World Cup, with approximately 20 different languages spoken by the players alone – let’s not forget about the specific regional and dialectal variants – and you will only have a dim idea of how difficult it gets to translate – or even carry, for that matter – a simple interview during a tournament. Because English is used as a lingua franca across the globe and many people do not speak English as their first language, comprehension becomes problematic, and interpreting accurately becomes a rather complex task, especially under stressful situations.Therefore, broadcast journalists and anyone at the frontline of news production must be prepared to handle such situations, especially during live interviews. Only in 2018, carrying out interviews, translating publicity material and helping visitors required a team of over 150,000 translators, among professional and volunteer workers. The amount of translators and words translated is unimaginable, and the verdict is: errors are bound to happen. So, even with all the advancements in technology, we should expect a certain degree of translation and interpretation errors.

FIFA’s fortunate decision at the right time

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Languages of FIFA World Cup 2022.[/caption]Fortunately, and maybe as a means to assuage concerns, as per a recent statutory provision made public through a circular issued by FIFA earlier this year, Arabic, Portuguese and Russian have been added to FIFA's roster of official languages. Four other languages already enjoyed the status of official language with FIFA: English, French, German and Spanish. With this, documents, announcements and any relevant information issued by the federation will be translated into all these languages where applicable.

Great piece of news for Portuguese speakers

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Places where Portuguese is the official language

Places where Portuguese is the official language.[/caption]The announcement came as very good news to the Portuguese speaking community. Of course, many factors were taken into consideration when making this decision, being one of them the fact that Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup.Football is a notable part of Brazil’s identity, and the national team is a five-time winner of the tournament, with the largest population of Portuguese speakers in the world. The Portuguese language is spoken by 250 million native speakers worldwide, plus approximately 24 million non-native speakers around the globe. Besides reducing the margin of errors, FIFA’s decision will help streamline procedures and operations across departments and affiliated associations not only in countries such as Brazil and Portugal, but in all nations where football is a national passion or where the sport is gaining attention.

FIFA Interpreting app

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FIFA Interpreting app

FIFA Interpreting app.[/caption]One resource worth mentioning is the FIFA Interpreting app, an app designed to break language barriers. From their smartphones, users can listen to what their interlocutors are saying in their native languages. In Qatar, the app has helped visually impaired spectators follow the matches – users put their headphones on and can listen to a descriptive commentary of what is happening in the field. So far, over 10K users have tried the app, which represents a huge success and consolidates the future envisioned by FIFA.


The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been a benchmark year for business in the technology and communication sectors. Mistakes happen, but they are part of the journey. They are the sole responsible for the future of technology, especially in the communication fieldFIFA proved the importance of technology in helping mitigate translation errors. On the other side, only humans will have the final word on AI and the power to overcome the linguistic barriers and the challenges of the modern world.

Gabriel Polycarpo
As a translator and creative writer, Gabriel specializes in writing/translating for the technology and hospitality industries, having provided copywriting, localization and translation services for major companies such as Skillshare, Tech5, Hotelogix, Fidentech, Earn2Trade, UN agencies, Yarina Lodge, Hacienda La Ciénega and Fundación Pachamama, as well as production companies, independent producers and writers such as the BlinkBox Studio (Jordan), Studio Zut (São Paulo) and American author Bryan Cassady.
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