World Cup press box with the Borat-touch

Football reporters hoping to cover England’s next World Cup qualifier in June could be in for a shock when they arrive in Kazakhstan and discover stadium press facilities that really do look like something straight out of a scene from the movie Borat.

One senior sports editor of a British national Sunday newspaper was being polite when he described the press provision in Kazakhstan’s national stadium as “a concern”, noting that the Kazakh FA appeared “unprepared” for the size of the press corps likely to accompany Fabio Capello’s squad in June to the former Soviet state.

A recent visit by the FA returned with pictures such as this from the “press box” in capital city Almaty’s Central Stadium: despite being the world’s largest landlocked country, oil-rich Kazakhstan’s national football team plays in a stadium where there are only 20 seats and desks promised for the visiting media for the Group 6 qualifying match on June 6. Even the provision of essential technical facilities which most of us take for granted on similar assignments – such as electricity power points or wireless internet access – is in doubt.

Those reporters not included among the “lucky” 20 allocated desks to work at on the day will be provided with seats in the main stand.

The SJA is lobbying to try to persuade FIFA to ensure that a more appropriate number of seats with desks and other facilities are made available. Unlike some international sports federations, which lay down minimum standards expected of host venues in a range of areas, including media, for their events, FIFA has no stipulation on media accommodation for stadiums staging qualifying matches in the world’s most famous football tournament.

David Walker, the sports editor of the Sunday Mirror, which would usually expect to staff a Saturday afternoon England international to deliver blanket coverage for its readers the following day, is among the newspaper executives worried by the poor press facilities in Almaty.

“The media facilities for England’s trip to Kazakhstan are a concern especially as they appear to be unprepared for the size of the press corps that always travels with England,” said Walker, an SJA committee member.

“As the organising body, FIFA has a responsibility to ensure the stadium is safe for all supporters, guests and members of the media. Next they must understand the interest in this kind of World Cup qualifier.

“Having visited places like Mali, Albania and Macedonia during my days on the road, I do appreciate the issues of creating a safe working environment for the media. I’d hope FIFA would insist in the provision of extra seats with work tables for the press.

“We’re talking about international football’s most prestigious tournament and the media interest when the likes of England, Italy and Germany are the visitors is well-known.”

The tragedy in the Ivory Coast during the most recent round of World Cup qualifiers, where at least 22 fans were killed and more than 130 others were injured when a stadium wall collapsed, once again raised concerns about stadium safety standards for major sports events. This week will mark the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, when 96 Liverpool fans were killed in a crush at an FA Cup semi-final.

The SJA has taken up the matter of the press facilities in Kazakhstan with AIPS, the international sports press association which liaises with FIFA on such matters. We would welcome input from all sports editors and football correspondents affected by the lack of proper facilities for the Kazakhstan match.

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