Wednesday 30 November 2022, 15:00

Veteran storytellers recall their FIFA World Cup memories

  • Tribute paid to nearly 80 journalists at a ceremony in Doha

  • We speak to three of them

  • “Football creates some great stories”

In recognising the role played by the media in making football the most popular of all sports, FIFA has paid homage to the longevity and commitment of the reporters who have covered eight or more FIFA World Cup™ competitions. Organised with the support of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS), a special ceremony was held in Doha for the nearly 80 journalists and photographers who have reached that landmark figure. In contributing their dedication, knowledge and incisiveness to both their profession and the game, they have projected the emotions generated by the tournament to fans all over the world. The fact that the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ is being played in a single city, the country’s capital, provided a unique opportunity to bring all of these honourable members of the press together to receive their awards – a mini-replica of the FIFA World Cup Trophy – from two-time Brazilian world champion Ronaldo.

Jesus Velez, 52 years of amazing stories

Honduran journalist Jesus Velez is quick to answer when asked which FIFA World Cup tournament is closest to his heart: Mexico 1970. That is not because it marked the start of a career that has taken him to 14 World Cups, but because of the stars he saw there and the enduring stories that came out of that tournament. “We were lucky enough to see the finest concentration of great players in history, fantastic players like [Franz] Beckenbauer, Pele, and [Ramon] Mifflin of Peru,” he said, recalling the tournament as if it were yesterday. “They took football to another level.” Thanks to his journalistic talent, Velez has worked alongside some of the idols he has admired from the press box. “I watched Tostao at Mexico 1970, and then at USA 1994 and Korea/Japan 2002 we were colleagues, commentators the two of us. I commentated in Spanish and he in Portuguese. It’s a lovely story. I can tell you that if anyone’s been lucky in football, it’s me because I saw a star on the pitch and then had him by my side as a journalist.”

Jesús Vélez Vanegas is presented with a world cup replica trophy

Juan Carlos Scelza and Uruguay’s eternal challenge

Juan Carlos Scelza of Uruguay casts his mind back to South Africa 2010, where Los Charrúas excelled. “We journalists like to say that even though we don’t play, we don’t make saves and we don’t score goals, the quality of our work goes up a notch when our country does well. In South Africa, 40 years on from Mexico 1970, Uruguay had a great campaign and finished fourth again.” Scelza has stayed at the highest level all this time. “Ultimately, that’s what we’re being rewarded for today: not so much for the quality as the continuity. In picking up this award, I can only think about all the journalists in the world who’d love to take part in a World Cup. It’s the biggest celebration there is.” As Scelza explained, Uruguay has the same challenge every four years. A country of little more than 3.5 million people, it continues to produce fine players who keep the national team firmly in the global spotlight. “People say we’re like this endless conveyor of young talent. It’s like the Hand of God comes down and waters the land so that we can keep on nurturing players in Uruguay. There’s no explanation for it. In Uruguay, people live and breathe the game and it keeps producing great stories.”

uan C. Scelza with a World Cup replica trophy

Javier Goni and questions filled with emotion

Scelza’s fellow countryman Javier Goni tells a story that explains the passion of the game in Uruguay. “I was in the USA, about to start a broadcast, when a Chilean colleague came up to me and said, ‘Excuse me, but I have a question’. And I said, ‘What’s your question?’ I was a bit annoyed because I was about to start work. ‘Do you know what the difference is between us and the Uruguayans?’ I said, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘We like football, but the Uruguayans live and breathe it’.” Goni is in little doubt, therefore, about the role he has to play every four years in telling stories to a nation that has football tattooed on its soul. “It’s a huge challenge. There’s no bigger event as far as Uruguay is concerned, bigger even than the Olympic Games, which are pretty huge. We live and breathe football and we’re a small country. There aren’t many of us and our population density is problematic.” Though time goes by and matches come and go, football continues to be an emotional pursuit for Goni and his compatriots. “I don’t confuse my country with football,” he said. “My country is education, health, national sovereignty and other things, whereas football is the national state of mind. Though the years go by, I get goosebumps whenever I stop in front of a team and sing the national anthem. There’s not a single game when I don’t feel my country inside me. It goes without saying that they’re two different things, but it’s at moments like that when my emotions run high.”

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