Conveying a passion: Translating sports in Brazil

“GOOOOOLLLLLL!!!” This drawn-out soccer term can be heard in the streets of Brazil in any city when the seleção brasileira, the Brazilian soccer team, is playing while fans watch on television or in the local diners, the lanchonetes. Brazil is known for soccer fever, as it’s commonly called, and most Brazilians will tell you which team they support and follow each week in the national league. My husband, for example, is a hard-core São Paulo F.C. fan, while his brother roots for Palmeiras and his father for Santos — and the three of them always root against Corinthians.

Sports are a favorite pastime for many Brazilians, as well as for many people of various countries in the world, of course, and soccer is often the international sport of choice. Soccer fans are gearing up for the upcoming Copa do Mundo to be held in Brazil, as it was named host country for the 2014 World Cup by Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) president Joseph S. Blatter in October 2007 from its headquarters in Zurich, and aficionados worldwide will be ready to show off their own national team colors. 

Twelve cities are set to host the games, including Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Cuiabá, Curitiba, Fortaleza, Manaus, Natal, Porto Alegre, Salvador, São Paulo, Recife, and of course, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s most famous city. The first match will take place in São Paulo on June 12, 2014. For now, some soccer stadiums are undergoing renovations, while others are being rebuilt or new ones constructed. According to FIFA, there are approximately 23,306 workers assisting in the construction, however, as of late, many criticize the FIFA officials due to the slow progress of construction and transportation infrastructures. In fact, as recently as March of this year, Jérôme Valcke, FIFA’s secretary general, formally apologized to Brazil’s sports minister, Aldo Rebelo. The apology came after a statement he made was translated incorrectly, according to Valcke. He said, “In French, ‘se donner un coup de pied aux fesses’ means only ‘to speed up the pace’ and unfortunately this expression was translated into Portuguese using much stronger words.” However, as the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo mentions, this phrase literally means “give a kick in the butt.” Many Brazilians are unhappy with what the secretary general called a “misinterpretation in the translation.” 

Gaffes in translation and interpretation are not unheard of in the World Cup. In fact, Globalization Group, Inc., published its top World Cup Translation Bloopers on its blog, and two of the most grievous mistakes occurred in the 2010 Cup in South Africa. Often these types of bloopers refer to a certain phrase or word that was mistranslated, but at a press conference for the Slovenian team, FIFA erroneously provided a Slovak interpreter. The mistake was quickly resolved, but the Slovenian team did not find the error humorous. Later on, a Slovene player’s words were misinterpreted when midfielder Andrej Komac said “we play to win.” The interpreter at the press conference stated “we are going to win,” which brought forth a response from the US goalkeeper, Tim Howard, who retorted, “Talk is cheap.” This obviously misconstrued statement from the Slovene player demonstrates the indirect power translators and interpreters have in large scale events like these, and walking the fine line of neutrality can be difficult with so much pressure involved. 

Thus far, it doesn’t seem that the translation industry has gotten off on the right foot for the 2014 games, at least not for Valcke. Translation continues to be an area in which preparations are also under way, and although words such as gol may be intelligible to most, professional translators and interpreters are in high demand for more than just the commentators’ remarks. Signage, menus, marketing materials, websites, accommodation information and much more must be translated for the massive number of tourists expected to arrive in Brazil in 2014 and again in 2016 for the Olympics. The Brazilian executive summary for the World Cup notes that approximately 22.46 billion Brazilian reals will be invested in infrastructure and organization. The summary included a list of opportunities for professionals in various fields as well. According to the list, translation will be needed for various texts, such as books, magazines, websites, scripts and so on. Additionally, rental equipment such as sound booths for simultaneous interpretation will be sought.  

The Ministry of Tourism plans to provide tourists with multilingual information for each host city, incorporating brochures and maps with top attractions, tourist destinations, and hotel and restaurant information. However, one area in which Brazil has received great criticism is in the restructuring of its airports. Currently, Brazil’s international airports are not expected to be able to accommodate the arrival and domestic travel of the vast numbers of tourists the games are expected to bring to the country. This key element has been a sore spot for those organizing the Cup, and it is one that will continue to receive much attention until the games begin in 2014.

A country known for its tourist destinations, Brazil’s international marketing efforts are considerable. The Ministry of Tourism recognizes that Brazil will be on stage for the world and is in the process of promoting the Cup throughout the world. The planning report from the Ministry noted that for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, 73,000 hours of television transmission promoted the games in 214 countries and territories. The event generated approximately 26 billion spectators, according to the same report. As the games approach, viewers and soccer fans are sure to see more advertisements, both online and on television, promoting Brazil and the Cup’s host cities. One that seems to be most obvious is the need to translate the Ministry of Tourism’s website, which presents information related to the Cup and its host cities. At the time of writing this article, the site appears only in Portuguese, English and Spanish, but perhaps other useful languages to add would be Arabic, Chinese, French and German. Both current and up-and-coming translation professionals recognize the seemingly unlimited prospects available to them and would surely jump at the chance to assist in translating marketing materials for FIFA and Brazil’s tourism sector. 

Business Translation Services blogged in August 2011 that there are more opportunities than professional translators and interpreters for the games. The blog quoted Pérsio Burkinski, director and founder of Millennium Traduções e Interpretações, as saying that there are not enough skilled translators and interpreters. “The Brazilian market is lacking professionals and many think that it is enough to speak another language to work in the field,” Burkinski stated. Unfortunately, this misconception is none too foreign to most of us who work in this industry, but to recognize it at the level of one of the largest sporting events in the world can be discouraging. Luckily, there seems to be an increasing number of students studying translation in Brazilian universities in the past several years, as many see the opportunities of gaining work during the World Cup and for the 2016 Olympic Games also to be held in Brazil.  

Angelita Quevedo, a teacher at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo noted that her program, which deals with translation, will probably have to increase the number of spots available to incoming students, as the demand is growing in Brazil and many students are aware of the increasing need for professionals in the field due to the sporting events in the next few years. Even though Brazil is known for hosting international meetings and conferences, the World Cup and Olympics will require providing translation on a much larger scale. 

Even before the games begin, conference calls and press conferences create projects for translators and interpreters in various language pairs, as many of the transcripts from these are translated into various languages. The moderator of a conference call in July 2011 noted that an English version of the transcript would be available and e-mailed to participants within 24 hours after the call. For the question and answer session of the phone call, an interpreter was available to interpret the questions from English to Portuguese for the then sports minister Orlando Silva of Brazil. Although transmitting the information from organizers to the world and FIFA representatives, this is only a small piece of the larger pie. Many do not believe there will be enough professionals to meet the need for translation and interpreting for the World Cup, nor for the 2016 Olympic Games. Thiana Donato, the director of All Tasks, a translation vendor with headquarters in São Paulo and branches in São Bernardo do Campo and London, believes the substantial amount of translation and interpreting projects will only increase, but she fears that there will be more work than professional linguists can handle. She stated, “We have already started receiving large projects since last year, related to the World Cup and the Olympic Games. We are forecasting a need for interpreters that will not be met.” 

Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism estimates that two million jobs will be created by the soccer championship’s events in 2014. Several translation agencies such as CMG Translations are requesting résumés for English, French, Mandarin and Spanish to Portuguese translators, as they hope to handle some of the translation work that will result from the World Cup, and later, for the Olympics. Another company already working with Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism is Education First. However, the company is focusing less on translation, and more on teaching hospitality and tourism professionals to speak English and Spanish through a partnership with the Ministry of Tourism and Fundação Roberto Marinho called Olá Turista. Via its online English school, Englishtown, the company claims to be preparing 80,000 Brazilians per year, including restaurateurs, tour guides and taxi drivers. The company will also provide language instruction for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games to be held in Sochi, Russia. Many other companies are approaching the Minsitry of Tourism due to its posted summary of professional opportunities related to translation.      

As Brazil continues to prepare for the World Cup, and later the Olympics in 2016, professional translators and interpreters will be curious to see the marketing materials, press conferences and more translated and interpreted for sports fans worldwide. It seems that many who perhaps do not even live in Brazil will have the opportunity to take part in rendering messages of the much anticipated tournaments for members of their own linguistic communities. These translations will not only reveal a country’s love for soccer, but also unite the world around a single passion. Although the Cup is only two years from now, there still appears to be plenty of work to go around.