KEIR RADNEDGE ANALYSIS: No other way to say it: Russia’s organisation of the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup was excellent. That goes for both the overall work and also for the media set-up.
This does not mean everything was perfect. FIFA president Gianni Infantino was, happily, not tempted to descend into Blatter-esque “best ever” hyperbole. But all the signs, after two weeks tracking across Russia and talking with colleagues and fans who had visited all four venues, was positive.
After the nervous, uncertain trepidation which preceded South Africa in 2009 and 2010 and then Brazil in 2013 and 2014 this was an enormous relief.
Russia is desperately working to put on its best face for the world of football and, by extension, not only the world of sport but the world in general.
This can be addressed cynically by critics of the very fact that this vast nation is playing host. But the 2018 World Cup is going ahead in Russia, whether geopolitical critics like it or not.
Good first impressions began at St Petersburg’s Polkovo airport even before the Opening Match in the city: separate entry lanes at passport/immigration control for accredited individuals, from whatever branch of the system. Also on departure.
Further into the system were shuttle buses to the Krestovsky Island from the city-centre media hotels, though the metro was quick and convenient, allowing for a 20-minute walk between station and stadium.
However the media shuttles varied from place to place and also in terms of the capacity of the vehicles. Little mini-buses in Kazan were inadequate for the rush of photographers and all their equipment heading back into town at around the same time after matches.
Signposting around the stadia was also effective and clear.
Every journalist looks for “accreditation centre” and “media centre” directional arrows and these were clearly marked around all four venue stadia: St Petersburg, Moscow Spartak, Kazan and Sochi.
Local transport was free with a specific card available to all journalists though these had to be collected separately in each different city from the transport desk in the accreditation centres and NOT in the media centres. The card for one city does not work in another.
Security for entry into the stadia was precise and tight. The accreditation provided electronic entry through a security gate into the bag-check area. All bags were put through an airport-type scanner followed by a pat-down for individuals.
Bags – except in Kazan – were then also subjected to a personalised open-and-search check. Laptops had to be switched on while security staff and their translators puzzled over items such as spare batteries, foreign plugs, mini-chargers, flash drives, etc.
It has to be said that security staff who were, initially, officious grew somewhat more polite as the tournament went on and they gained a greater understanding of what – and with whom – they were dealing.
The media centres were all adequate in terms of work table provisions though Kazan will need to find more space for media working areas when the World Cup comes to town. The media centre in an intriguing and engaging city was adequate for the Confederations Cup but inadequate for World Cup media needs.
All work tables in both media centres, media tribunes and photographers slots were fully cabled. However, some of the multi-plug fitments in the media tribune were badly designed and prevented the full connection of two-pin adapter plugs.
Media facilities organisers need to improve that particular provision.
This summed up the tale of media organisation at the Confederations Cup: everything was in place but the specificities of some provisions need to be reviewed.
Two other points need to be addressed.
The Russians, so AIPS understands, were far too slow in sorting out the communications and ‘paperwork’ necessary to cope with accreditation applications after the draw. So slow, in fact, that FIFA was inviting match SAD applications even before formally confirming accreditations.
Several journalists in different countries also found that their acceptance letters were rejected by local consulates when they went in person to apply for their visas (which were free, by the way).
If that happened for the comparatively restricted numbers of media attending the Confederations Cup then imagine the problems which could arise if the visa system is not fully geared up well ahead of time for the World Cup.
Another peculiar issue which arose during the Confederations Cup was the sudden revelation that on more than 200 trains between cities free travel allocation had been provided for ticket-holding fans.
Midway through the tournament, journalists were told they could also access the free inter-city travel option.
In the case of many foreign fans and the majority of journalists this was frustrating. Excellent idea but delivered far too late. The Russian organisers need to have the free-travel system in place at least when the finals draw is made. Otherwise fans and media will plan their travel and pay up front (as demanded by Russian hotels, airlines etc).
Of course, free inter-city train travel in Russia must have its limits. It can take well over two days to travel by train from St Petersburg to Sochi.
However, if the Russians could provide a Confederations Cup provision then they must be able, at the least, to sort out free-ticket availability between the cities of the regional clusters (Kaliningrad, presumably, would be the exception).
One final point of uncertainty remains for all visitors, not only the media.
St Petersburg, Moscow, Kazan and Sochi are cities accustomed, in recent years, to staging international sports events. Hence, for example, the introduction of English-language station signs and announcements on the metro systems.
But Samara, Saransk, Volgograd and the rest will be new to the ‘game’. Russia’s organisers, hopefully, have paid particular attention to knowledge transfer. Only in that will all 11 venue cities present to the world the excellent first impression of the Confederations Cup.