Friday 02 December 2022, 11:00

The legend of the World Cup seen through the eyes of its greatest writers

  • FIFA pays tribute to almost 80 reporters and photographers

  • Three award-winners speak to

  • 75-year-old Youssef Berjaoui: “I’m still learning!”

In recognition of the role played by the media in spreading the popularity of football around the world, FIFA has paid tribute to the longevity and the consistency of those journalists who have covered at least eight editions of the sport’s greatest tournament. A special ceremony was organised in conjunction with the International Sports Press Association (IPSA) for the 80 or so reporters and photographers involved, with these outstanding members of their profession lauded for the commitment, expertise and experience they provide both to their employers and to football. All of them have managed to capture the sheer emotion of a tournament that fires the imagination of supporters the world over. With the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ being held in one single city, namely Doha, it was an ideal opportunity to bring these various personalities together. The honoured guests were able to both attend the event and receive their award (a miniature replica of the World Cup trophy) from none other than two-time FIFA World Cup-winner Ronaldo.

“Having covered ten World Cups in the four corners of the globe, I’m delighted that the event is now being held in an Arab nation,” said Youssef Berjaoui from Lebanon, who also described himself as “very proud” to be one of the committed professionals to be receiving the award. Other than Mexico 1986™ which he was forced to miss for medical reasons, Berjaoui has not missed a tournament since Spain 1982™, and has thus brought 40 years of experience and memories with him here to Qatar. “I’m still learning though,” he was quick to add. “I came here hoping to witness a World Cup that was similar to those that had gone before, but this one has surprised me. I’m seeing one of the great World Cups – it may even be the best that there’s ever been!”

AIPS / FIFA Journalist on the Podium ceremony  - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

Like Berjaoui, Italy’s Emanuela Audisio has also been involved in ten World Cups as a journalist. Ironically, her fondest memories of the tournament are not from Germany 2006™ and the Squadra Azzura’s victory but actually USA 1994™, when her Italian team went down in the final to Brazil. “It’s definitely my strangest memory,” she explained. “After the defeat in the final, it was my job to interview Roberto Baggio, who had missed his penalty during the shoot-out. It was a long walk to the mixed zone and it was a tense moment. A lot of people were in my way as I tried to get there and in my haste, I knocked a man over… I was embarrassed and stopped to make sure that I hadn’t hurt him. It turned out that the man that I had bumped into was none other than the actor Dustin Hoffman, who was fortunately unscathed. I’m not about to forget that particular moment!” The Italian journalist does have some more positive memories of World Cups past, including a famous victory over Bora Milutinovic at the 1986 tournament… in a table tennis match! “I went to Mexico’s training camp to do some interviews and they had a table tennis table, so I challenged Bora Milutinovic who was their coach back then. It’s a sport I’ve played a fair bit, and I ended up winning. Bora was very magnanimous, saying ‘well done, I owe you lunch’. Journalism was different back then…” she recalled.

While Audisio as an Italian also has fond memories of the World Cup in 1990, that tournament is very much the favourite of Nigeria’s Ibikunle Solaja. “It was my first World Cup, and the one where I received the warmest welcome. I’ll never forget it,” said Solaja, who has covered another seven World Cups since then. “I can’t put into words how I felt when I saw Diego Maradona training at the San Siro before the group game between Cameroon and Argentina. The way he juggled to ball front to back, with his legs, shoulders then his head... It was incredible,” he said. “That day, 8 June 1990, was all the more memorable as Cameroon made it through to the Round of 16, and as an African, that was the team I was supporting. “I was really sad after the Indomitable Lions lost to England in the quarter-finals. They could have won that match – they were leading 2-1 but couldn’t manage to hold the lead and gave away two penalties. Despite it all, though, that summer in Italy is etched in my memory,” Solaja said.

And perhaps this will be the year that an African team makes it into the final four of a World Cup for the first time...