No stick from the media over Hockey World Cup

As Glasgow readies itself for the media invasion for the Commonwealth Games, SARAH JUGGINS sympathises with those tasked with catering for the press corps

The Hockey World Cup, which took place in The Hague last month, is the largest, and most high status, international hockey competition – with the exception of the Olympics – with 24 teams, accounting for more than 384 players, plus numerous coaching, medical and general support staff and, of course, a host of media. I was working there as one of three International Hockey Federation (FIH) media officers.

New Zealand taking on the hosts, the Netherlands, in last month's Hockey World Cup
New Zealand taking on the hosts, the Netherlands, in last month’s Hockey World Cup

The Hockey World Cup is held every four years and, with the exception of the 1998 edition in Utrecht, it normally takes place at two venues – one for the women’s teams and one for the men’s. This year, The Hague offered to host both events, and several side events as well.

The result was a fabulous hockey extravaganza, with the main competition taking place in the Kyocera Stadium – a 20,000-seater stadium, normally home to the ADO Den Haag football club – and in a temporary arena adjacent to the main arena, called Greenfields. There was also beach hockey on The Hague coastline, and tournaments for Masters (for players aged 35-plus) and Grandmasters (for men over 70, and women aged 65 or older) taking place down the road at Rotterdam.

Naturally, the tournament and the side events attracted a huge amount of press interest, and that was one of the media team’s tasks – to manage the accreditation process and then ensure the press was catered for at the event itself.

This placed me well and truly on the other side of the fence, as I was able to witness first-hand some of the trials and tribulations of helping a large press corps that included more than 300 broadcasters, radio, print press, photographers and the burgeoning number of website journalists.

My colleague, Richard Stainthorpe, is a veteran of managing media operations. He was the venue media manager for London 2012 and has also worked at hockey events around the world including the Beijing Olympics as well as the Germany 2006 men’s and Argentina 2010 women’s World Cup events. But this Hockey World Cup was going to be a whole different ball game.

For a start, space was really limited. With both the men’s and the women’s competition taking place at the same venue and the same time, there was double the interest. Where the events on the sub-continent or in Oceania are rarely under pressure when it comes to media tribunes, this was going to be tight.

The media tribune seated 150 journalists at its absolute maximum, and space for commentators, photographers and television crews was even more limited. With 15 countries represented by the 24 participating teams, the logical step would be to limit each nation to a maximum of 10 members of the media. The reality was that this was never going to work. A television crew alone would account for four or five people. Add to that a newspaper journalist, a magazine journalist, a few photographers and a handful of website writers, and already the allocation is exceeded.

As media officers, we had to decide how to prioritise the applications for accreditations. The first and most obvious filter was participating nations, so that meant that journalists from France, Hungary and Italy were put to the back of the queue. But that in itself seemed a little rough, as many of these nations are keen participants in hockey with fervent hockey spectators. And wouldn’t the organisers, and sponsors, also want coverage in, say L’Equipe or Gazzetta della Sport?

Another means of prioritising requests was to look at the circulation or potential audience. A national daily paper would take precedence over a local or regional paper. But what about specialist hockey magazines or dedicated hockey websites? While some were one-man bands who just wanted to enjoy some hockey, others are serious news gatherers for the sport, with thousands of followers.

Somehow, we negotiated our way through the minefield of accreditation, although we were still squeezing people in or turning away pleas for accreditation throughout the event. We reached our decisions after discussions with the broadcast manager, who knew which radio and television broadcasters should be allowed access, and following advice from each of the participating nations’ own team communications managers. This last point was vital, as these were the people who knew which journalists were serious sports writers and who might be there on a “jolly”.

At the venue itself, the key thing was to ensure that journalists had access to the internet, via cable and wi-fi. The FIH and the host nation decided to make internet access free to the journalists, but that generosity only means something if it works. Day One and we were tearing out our hair as the internet refused to play ball. As the venue media manager aged visibly before us, the internet engineers worked around the clock and we fielded questions from journalists as they tried to file copy and the photographers tried to download pictures. By Day Two, it was as if nothing had happened – we breathed a sigh of relief and everyone calmed down.

Always a demand for more data

The media centre was one of the best I have experienced. Constant tea, coffee and water; piles of sandwiches, cakes and fruit; an always-manned help desk; dedicated desks for photographers; a well-run mixed zone and a fairly smooth process for getting the media conferences underway. But of course there are hiccoughs and upsets. Over the course of the event, Stainthorpe spoke with several members of the media, including TV commentators, journalists and photographers, and found that the major areas of concern was in relation to the limitations of the available historical data.

“The facilities and services provided in The Hague were first-class, but various conversations that I had with members of the working media highlighted areas for improvement and refinement,” he said. “We are looking at increasing the number of available in-event statistics and relevant historical information, such as head-to-heads, to ensure that members of the media have as much info as possible at their fingertips. This is something that we will work on in the lead-up to the Champions Trophy tournaments that take place in Argentina and India at the end of the year.

“We have already made positive strides forward in this area with the development of enhanced interactive press kits, but we know that future versions will be even better. The feedback we get from the media is vitally important as it aids our drive to push things forward.”

As tournaments go, this was a good one. It was helped by good weather, great crowds and some superb hockey, but it was also down to things going to plan behind the scenes. We held our breath the first time that two of the big nations played each other. If every accredited journalist turned up, then things would have got very messy.

As it was, the media tribune did its stuff and, on the whole, everyone was happy. “The majority of the media feedback that we received has been extremely positive, which is fantastic for everybody involved,” Stainthorpe said. “While FIH deserves some credit, the majority has to go to the Royal Dutch Hockey Federation and local media officer Arjen Rahusen. The efforts of the team on the ground are vital to the success of any event media operation, and Arjen and his team of volunteers were tireless in their efforts to set a new benchmark in how media ops at major international hockey events outside of the Olympic Games should be handled.”

  • Sarah Juggins is the Treasurer of the SJA


Mon Sep 15: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC – Book your place now. Non-members very welcome

Thu Dec 11: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery, at the Grand Connaught Rooms