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Staying Ahead of the Game: Translation at International Sporting Events


7 min read

Written by


Argos Multilingual

Published on

21 Jul 2021

International sporting events bring millions of people together from all over the world, making sport perhaps the closest thing we have to a universal language. Behind the scenes at most of them are the unsung heroes of the sporting world – the translators and interpreters that help athletes and spectators get the most out of their sporting experience.

One of the most fascinating elements of any international sporting event is the diversity of cultures and languages on display. In a globalized world, it’s increasingly common for athletes from all fields to compete outside their home countries, and players of team sports like football and baseball often spend much of their career playing in countries where their own native language is not widely spoken. This means an ever-increasing need for communication among individual athletes, teams, and organizations. Let’s take a look at a few aspects of sport that benefit from the work of skilled translation professionals.

International athletes

When Mexican baseball phenom Fernando Valenzuela joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981, the 20 year-old pitcher spoke virtually no English – in the eyes of management, he was so good he didn’t need to. However, the language barrier created communication difficulties with the media and teammates, and for lack of a better solution the team pressed Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrín into service as Fernando’s 24/7 translator. Today, with close to 30 percent of players in Major League Baseball being Latino, several team managers can express themselves fluently in Spanish. Teams find it convenient and even necessary to have a bilingual manager, even if communication during the game flows mostly in English.

When it comes to football, the rapid globalization of the game has led to an explosion in demand for the services of professional translators and interpreters. When he played in China, former Barcelona defender Sergi Barjuan joked that his translator was like his wife because they were together so much. That’s perhaps a slight exaggeration, but interpreters play an important part in the daily lives of foreign players and coaches, for whom life in a new country can contain severe culture shocks. They help new arrivals find a place to live, open bank accounts, and set up mobile payment systems on their smart phones. Even after they get settled into life abroad, coaches and players often continue to lean heavily on interpreters, taking them supermarket shopping and often becoming close friends and confidants.

Translating the Cup

For global brands, the World Cup presents a huge opportunity to engage consumers – but only if they get translation and localization right. The official languages of FIFA are English, French, German, and Spanish, but in 2018 there were 32 national teams participating, with a total 18 official languages between them. According to FIFA, 3.4 billion people watched the 2018 Cup, representing nearly 200 countries and 180 different languages. Each FIFA member country is responsible for translation into their country’s own language, and FIFA itself translates over three million words per language per year – which speaks to an already huge market for translation services.

Smart brands, retailers, and service providers can take advantage of consumer interest to engage potential and existing consumers worldwide. During the 2014 World Cup, Sony launched a global social network called “One Stadium Live.” This platform allowed fans to connect globally by focusing on six key languages to bring all the conversations into one space. Johnson & Johnson also found success by setting up a social newsroom prior to the tournament that focused on real-time posts translated into Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese and Arabic.

An Olympic-sized achievement

Ever since the first modern Olympics in 1896, the games have provided countries with a forum to set aside their differences and come together – a process that would be impossible without global translation services. Because there are three official languages for the Olympics (French, English, and the language of the host country), the Olympic translation team of professional linguists has to work under a strict schedule to translate everything from menus to medical records to traffic warnings to on-field signage into all of the official languages, a process which usually begins roughly one month before the games begin.

Social media may not be the first thing you think of when you think about translation for a huge event like the Olympics, but organizers have to make sure that spectators from around the world can access the competition on their preferred platform in their preferred language without any translation issues. By the end of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, there were over 150 million tweets and 116 million Facebook status updates about the games to deal with. The Olympic Channel, which broadcasts news about the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games, has social media accounts in English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, and Latin American Spanish. Each account is tailored to individual users based on their primary language.

The Argos way

At Argos Multilingual, we combine a large and growing team of professional translators and subject matter experts to deliver linguistically and culturally accurate translations. Our experts understand the nuances of their discipline and work with the help of leading-edge translation memory software. Partner with us, and you’ll get the best quality human translations, backed up by technology designed to save you time and money.

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