Let the games begin…
So finally, after what feels like years of planning, the 2006 World Cup is under way.
The gestation period for Fifa’s latest extravaganza seems to have been longer than ever – and I speak both as someone professionally involved with the event and as a football fan.
From the supporter’s perspective, it’s just fantastic to have arrived at this stage. Nothing in sport, in my view, comes close to the World Cup. With apologies to the Olympics (that other quadrennial staple of BBC Sport’s output), the sheer scale and undiluted passion of football’s big one simply dwarves every other sporting event.
As a fan (and a father of an unbelievably expectant seven-year-old boy), the last few weeks have felt like the longest, most drawn-out Christmas Eve of all time. “Bring it on – please!” was the message. The anticipation was just becoming too much to take.
But from a professional perspective, the experience has been completely the opposite.
Every day that slipped by was a day’s less preparation time. The countdown clock on our World Cup homepage seemed to be running at twice the normal speed, as our ambitious (some might say over-ambitious…) plans for the BBC Sport website encountered a series of hitches and hurdles. “Don’t let it start yet – please!” was the message. If we could just get another couple of weeks, everything would be fine. But sadly June 9 was one deadline that simply couldn’t be shifted…
Our preparation for the World Cup has fallen into two fairly distinct categories.
Firstly there’s the main editorial output – ie the journalism that is the heart of our website. Without this content there would simply be no website to launch. It’s a huge task to produce so many stories and features – but thankfully we have a dedicated team of journalists who worked ridiculously hard to make sure we had as much top-notch stuff to read as possible.
This text content is something we’ve been doing for years. We’ve covered the 1998 and 2002 World Cups in this way and, after eight years, we’ve established a pretty good routine. So, with some hard graft and four of journalists decamped to Germany, it all starts to fall into place.
But a lot has changed on the internet in the past four years – technology has improved, broadband uptake has exploded and the audience expects more than just text and still images. So our World Cup 2006 website looks very different to the 2002 version.
This is where we come to the second category of preparation, which, if you’ll excuse my use of internet jargon, can be described as “new stuff”.
Blogs, player ratings, virtual replay, desktop tickers, interactive maps, live video streams – they’re just a handful of innovations we’re trying for the first time for this World Cup. All of them are complex projects that involve our team in BBC Sport working with other departments in the BBC (which given the sheer size of this place is not always as straightforward as you'd imagine) and, as is increasingly the case, dealing with external suppliers.
There have been some “interesting” moments with most of these projects – and I’m sure there will be more to come. But so far, things are looking pretty good.
Clearly, there’s no time to rest though. It’s been a long haul already, but the fact is that for all of us in BBC Sport Interactive the work is really only just about to begin…