FIFA TV...... the name could be misleading at first. In an age when the medium of television grows ever more accessible and influential, many might assume that FIFA has created its own TV channel. Much as FIFA aims to adapt to the trends of modern football, they would not be right (at least, not yet!).
FIFA TV is a weekly magazine programme produced by ISL Television, the television arm of FIFA's marketing partner ISL Worldwide. With a team of 12 producers and reporters working exclusively on the project, ISL is determined to make FIFA TV the premier football magazine programme worldwide, and after just over a year of existence, the show is already seen in some 100 countries on every continent.
The FIFA TV concept was originally the idea of John Davis, then ISL TV's Head of Production. The association with FIFA grants FIFA TV an extra dimension in covering the major issues of modern football, but the programme is not an official mouthpiece for the Federation. It is a fully autonomous production whose mission, in the words of executive producer Clive Lawrence, is quite simply to cover "everything that is interesting in the world of football". Camera crews travel to big matches for interviews with the top names, but FIFA TV aims principally to look beyond the limelight and provide an insight into all areas and levels of football, from high-profile stars to grass-roots development. Clive Lawrence describes the programme as seeking to "examine and challenge all the current philosophies in the game".
Football at all levels
Development of young players is a central theme for the programme, focusing on different methods of coaching and the various schools around the world that help nurture the stars of tomorrow. SOS Children's Villages and the GOAL programme are two aspects of FIFA's development and aid work that will be covered in upcoming episodes.
Profiles of great players and coaches of the past are another regular feature. Clive Lawrence says often the most enlightening comments on the state of modern football come from those who have played the game at the highest level. A recent interview with Sepp Blatter gained an insight into his childhood years, his early sporting career and his professional achievements, as well as tackling the FIFA President on a number of key issues facing modern football.
FIFA TV celebrated its first anniversary in January. The first programme included features and action from the Confederations Cup in Saudi Arabia, where a camera crew was based for the whole of the tournament. During the first year, FIFA TV crews visited over 100 countries, travelling to such varied destinations as Tokyo and the Falkland Islands. Sometimes the teams were required to do their job under somewhat challenging conditions, such as in the middle of angry mobs and crowd disturbances. On one occasion in Cyprus, the stadium announcer used the public address system loudspeaker to express his personal apologies to FIFA TV for a series of disturbances in the crowd.
Diplomatic skills are also occasionally called for. For example, on the remote islands of Iceland the FIFA TV producer politely turned down the opportunity to sample a local delicacy, puffin meat. However, there have also been moments of luxury. In Paraguay the local German/Spanish translator, who also freelanced for the President, made sure that Clive Lawrence and his cameraman lived like kings for the entire duration of their stay.
One of the friendliest welcomes was experienced in Tehran, where the local people went out of their way to make the crew feel at home and provide them with a taste of traditional Iranian hospitality. However, such courtesies did not extend to the stadium on derby day. During the match the FIFA TV cameraman got a little too close to the impassioned fans and was sent running for cover by a volley of makeshift firecrackers.
One of the more unusual destinations visited in recent months was the Falkland Islands, accessible only by British RAF aircraft. The flight took a total of 18 hours from London, including a refueling stop in the Ascension Islands, where for security reasons the cameraman was only permitted to film the plane. The FIFA TV team then stayed in the army barracks the first night, trying to sleep in the midst of roaring aircraft engines and a howling gale. During filming the next day both the producer and cameraman literally had to stand on the camera tripod to prevent it from blowing away. The annual five-match series between the military and the local populace was played on a pitch partially occupied by sheep and geese which had to be moved before the games could begin. Both sides took the matches very seriously, with the army going as far as to fly in players from exercises all over the islands, some arriving only a matter of minutes before kick-off.
Besides providing opportunities to cover football and footballers in far-flung and exotic locations, FIFA TV's first year of existence also saw the focus and emphasis of the programme gradually evolve from a mainly news- and action-based presentation to more in-depth feature pieces. Highlights from various leagues have been replaced in favour of international matches, although crucial domestic clashes or derbies are still covered. Clive Lawrence admits that the programme took a little time to establish its identity and define its concept, but believes they have now found the right formula.
A new look
Not that the production team will be resting on its laurels. The programme is still evolving and will change its look this summer, with new titles, music and graphics to promote the new FIFA brand. In addition, the content will be slightly adapted to include features from every continent in every episode, and a regular FIFA News section will be introduced to keep viewers up to date with the latest developments within the world governing body. The programme already has access to FIFA events, activities and personalities on a regular basis, but ISL are looking to develop the FIFA association even further. The new format will feature more but shorter sections to distinguish it from other similar football magazine programmes, and Clive Lawrence is confident the new initiatives will create a faster-moving, more diverse show.
Look out for the latest episode on your national broadcaster...