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A Nil-Nil Draw

07/02/2018 - 12h50

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PAULA CESARINO COSTA

Brazil hasn't actually come to a complete halt during these two first weeks of the Russian World Cup, but everything is on the low burner. Very little has stood out in the sports news coverage occupying the front pages of print and digital newspapers.

Even with less green and yellow decorating the streets and with a high level of disinterest like never seen before - according to Datafolha, 53% of Brazilians claim to have no interest in the World Cup -, the TV audience has broken records, with eight out of 10 television sets tuned into the Cup. On social networks and sites, the unfolding of the games is among the subjects garnering the most user attention.

Between June 14 and 29, 15% of the messages sent to the Letters to the Editor Panel mentioned the Cup. It was the theme most commented on, surpassing for example, those who mentioned the Federal Supreme Court (STF) and those referring to former president Lula (both represented 9% of the total). But there were readers who complained of an "exaggerated emphasis".

I consider this to be the most coherent and correct editorial policy choice, but it suddenly changed with the end of the classification phase. Mistakenly, the front page on Friday (the 29th) didn't publish any images from the competition. On Saturday (the 30th), with decisive games involving some of the top world teams still taking place, the Cup was relegated to the foot of the front page.

If there were plenty of surprises and unexpected results in the field, the news coverage itself was full of ties. The positive aspect of this balance is that Folha succumbed neither to euphoria and bragging, nor to exaggerated pessimism.

This year the new thing in the playing field is video arbitration, a kind of Ombudsman for field arbitration. The Video Assisted Referee (VAR) is a welcome addition to the team of critics.

Off the field, a small but good example of what should be being sought out is the story of a kid from a Rio favela (slum), with no money to buy an official uniform, watching the games wearing an improvised national team jersey with the name Philippe Coutinho apparently scrawled on it by hand. Users of social networks were moved and an actor gave him an official jersey as a present while Coutinho himself sent the boy a video message, promising to meet him soon. Folha disregarded the whole story.

What has caused the greatest controversy are the chauvinistic manifestations and the cases of sexual harassment between fans and even journalists. A sharp rebuke by Brazilian reporter Júlia Guimarães from SporTV, to a harasser who tried to forcibly kiss her - "I don't allow you to do that Never do this to a woman. Respect! - got top coverage in the international press. The behavior of Brazilian fans harassing a Russian woman turned into a national shame.

Folha has maintained a high-level standard for columnists and this time around breathed life into its pages by increasing the participation of female contributors. Both inside of and outside of the special section readers have been able to find many quality opinion pieces about the Cup.

The newspaper seems to have forgotten the humor it printed in the sports pages in recent Cups, leaving it exclusively to cartoonists and the excellent Ricardo Araújo Pereira (in Sports) and Renato Terra (in Illustrated).

I was very critical of the coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympics. While regarding some aspects I could repeat points in their entirety that I presented in August of that year, it is fair to say that there has been evolution and advancement, notably in the reliance on data-centric journalism.

The 2018 World Cup has been framed by an infinity of data, much of it presented in a sophisticated fashion. The heat signals that reveal teams' movements on the playing field have become a sensation. They are, in fact, a clear and visibly appealing method for providing quality analysis of the game.

In digital coverage, however, there has been little evolution, despite the considerable increase in the valuation of the numbers and the countless new possibilities available for visual presentation of tactical analysis.

What will be the journalistic legacy of the Russian Cup? With lots of writing but little creativity in text editing, there have been no relevant scoops, surprising reporting, unforgettable stories or brilliant insights.

Let's cite two examples from previous World Cups: in 1994, Folha revealed that the Brazilian four-time champion delegation came back home with 14 tons of baggage, which was lampooned in the press as the "Muamba (pirate theft) Flight"; in 1998, the reconstruction of Ronaldo's meltdown in the final game prompted investigative efforts which were subsequently very successfully published and received.

It is regrettable to note that the first World Cup after the sacking and imprisonment of so many international soccer big-wigs hasn't been the target of any profound investigative reporting. The business of soccer - with its nebulous and powerful innards - goes along freely without the priority and profound investigative investment it deserves to receive.

The game is still in play. The second and most decisive half of the Cup is about to start. There is still time for Folha to chase down some goals.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

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