Brasil at the World Cup: 69 Weeks & Counting

17 Jul 20, 9:50AM 0 Comments

Written by Robert Burgin

Photo by Bruno Ruas

Hopefully you enjoyed last week’s first edition of this column, an insight to a manager’s role taking a fledgling nation through to its first Rugby League World Cup.

If you didn’t catch the introductory installment about Brasil’s women’s team, it’s worth a look, just to get a feel for the background.

So what’s been happening this week?


One thing you don’t appreciate fully until you’re working at the coalface is what a task it is to fulfil media requirements when the vast majority of your players don’t speak English.

I’ve been on the other side of the microphone in a past life, working as a journalist at international events where some players only spoke French or Italian. And, of course, Fuifui Moimoi would famously revert to speaking Tongan when he didn’t really want to be interviewed.

However, those encounters were few and far between and usually negotiated through a well-meaning bystander or largely by praying the athlete would do their best to stutter out a few words in English.

I said many years ago that rugby league journalists would need to become multilingual at some stage to keep pace with the game. But the profession has had it reasonably comfortable so far, with the code restricted largely to the Commonwealth.

This week we had a request from Chasing Kangaroos, a podcast about international rugby league that I’m sure a lot of you will have heard of. If not, check it out. It’s one of the best going around.

Actually, when I say ‘this week’, I’m fibbing to a fair degree. The request was made maybe more than a month ago, but it was the logistical side of it that kept us hogtied until the last few days.

For one, because of COVID we weren’t allowed to send one our dual-language players out to meet with the player in question and assist them through.

Secondly, as we’ve experienced a few times, Portuguese-language players tend to go through several stages when an interview request is put to them. They may be excited or anxious to please at first and jump at the opportunity. Then suddenly, just one or two tricky words can completely throw their confidence. They go from slightly over-estimating their English skills to massively under-estimating them in the blink of an eye. After all, nobody wants to look a fool in front of an audience.

Brasil Amazonas Womens logo

Then, after much cajoling and reassurance, the athlete will regain some faith and realise their 50 per cent grasp of a foreign language is better than the five per cent that most people possess.

On this occasion we ended up discussing about four different ways we could conduct the interview.

The final arrangement was that we translated all the questions into Portuguese, sent them to the player in advance to rehearse, got them to answer in Portuguese and then dubbed English translation over the top in the voice of a bilingual female staff member, so that the accent and character was retained.

Usually, news clips might range between 30-90 seconds, but this was a full 10-minutes of non-stop speaking and translation, so I have to take my hat off to everyone who made it possible.

You’re relying on the patience, understanding and coordination of several people all at once, the media organisations included.

It’s certainly not a simple case of hitting ‘record’ on the dictaphone and waltzing up to your intended target.

And, as any media manager or even press photographer will tell you, for every extra athlete you want to capture at a single time (say in groups of three or four), multiply the difficulty by 10.

To get everybody’s timelines and geographic locations in-sync, all happy and engaged, is a skill that takes some perfecting.

Each World Cup team is given an allowance of eight support staff to travel with, although the reality is most nations will utilise more than this when you consider the number of roles that need to be fulfilled. Still, eight is a decent amount.

Brasil Ladies Rugby League

Tentatively, our main eight support staff for Brasil will consist of five people who speak Portuguese natively, then three others who speak English natively, with varying levels of Portuguese proficiency.

I’m one of those in the latter category. I’ve spoken some degree of Portuguese for more than a decade now, but to be faultless in a team situation, particularly when discussing vital matters that need to be crystal clear, is completely different to social chit-chat at a café or bar.

One facet that you need to consider is that, even in English, words that are very similar can mean the complete opposite. Ineffective sounds a lot like ‘an effective’. The same is true for words like incomplete, unapproved, unconditional etcetera.

You get the same in most languages and I’ve experienced before in off-field environments, where the simple misunderstanding of a single word can lead to people doing the exact opposite of what is requested, which might lead to subpar performance, misunderstandings or even rifts which last months. It’s a pointless waste of everybody’s energy.

That’s definitely something I’m keen to avoid, so I’ve signed up for more Portuguese lessons. We’re lucky to have Paul Grundy onboard as one of the assistant coaches and head of development, a previous representative coach and club president in Australia, who has spoken Portuguese for over a decade.

His son Zach – the grandson of former Australian player Ray Laird – has lived in Brasil since he was 16…but that’s a story for a following week.

If you fancy supporting underdogs Brasil on their World Cup journey, it is possible to make a one-off or weekly donation that will go towards the costs of their training camps and warm-up fixtures – or even get your name on their official training shirt. Click here to support Brasil’s women’s team, a team that will consist of approximately 90 per cent domestically-based players.

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