Tag Archives: Sports

How FIFA overcame soccer’s language barrier

Photo: eko via Flickr

Photo: eko via Flickr

Here’s a guest post from The Big Show’s Nina Porzucki.

The World Cup kicked off this with a match between Brazil and Croatia officiated by a Japanese referee. How do Croatians, Brazilians and Japanese communicate on the field?

After the Croatian team lost the opening match, the Croatian player, Vedran Corluka complained that he couldn’t understand the referee.

“He was speaking Japanese,” said Corluka, “so it was real difficult to communicate with him.”

This isn’t the first incident of miscommunication on the soccer field. In fact, miscommunication is what gave birth to one of the most infamous symbols of soccer.

Ever wonder what players are saying to the referee on the field?

Peter Walton has heard it all. He is a former Premier League referee. But when Walton, or any FIFA referee for that matter, talks back to players it should be in English and not Japanese or any other language.

FIFA referees take English courses to learn the basics of what they need to know to communicate on the field.

“’Off’ for example is universal and everyone knows what ‘off’ means when you red card a player,” said Walton.

Not always so. The red card was actually born out of a misunderstanding about “off” on the field.

The year was 1966. The World Cup was being hosted in England and it was a tense quarter final match between host England and Argentina. The referee for the match was German.

Around 35 minutes into the game, the referee called a foul against Argentina.

Argentina’s captain, Antonio Rattin, questioned the foul. The problem was, as he said in an interview later, he was speaking Spanish, which the referee didn’t understand.

Things got increasingly heated. There were wild gesticulations and raised voices in various languages. And then the German referee sends Rattin “off.”

“Because of miscommunication, because of some language barrier and also because of body language issues, the ref didn’t communicate to Rattin or Rattin didn’t pick it up, and [he] stayed on the field.”

The Argentine captain refused to walk, stopping the game for eight minutes – an eternity in soccer. He finally did leave the field and the game resumed but most importantly, that moment of complete breakdown in communication forced FIFA to innovate

“FIFA said look we’ve got to have a way of communicating to the players and the public at large when there’s been some disciplinary sanction,” said Walton.

The idea came from the head referee of those 1966 World Cup games, a man called Ken Aston. Aston was stopped at a traffic light one day and it suddenly occurred to him.

“Yellow, take it easy; red: stop, you’re off”

And so the red and yellow cards were born.

They were first used in the 1970 World Cup held in Mexico and have since become a symbol of soccer. As soon as the referee puts his hand in his pocket, the players, the coach and the entire crowd knows.

In fact, the act is so entrenched that you don’t even need the cards themselves. Referee Peter Walton found this out the hard during one Premier League match when in the middle of the field he reached into his pocket and there was nothing there.

“To my dismay, [I] found that I’d left my red and yellow cards in the locker room,” he said. “There I was in front of the worldwide TV audience and what did I do? I just put my hand in the pocket and pulled out this imaginary card and held my hand aloft with no card in it and said, ‘There’s your caution.’ I thought I got away with it until the TV picked it up and if you Google my name on YouTube you’ll have a laugh yourself.”

It is quite a funny video.

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At Sochi, never mind the languages…just follow the pictograms

Here’s a guest post my Big Show pal Nina Porzucki.

The next time you go to the bathroom, take a closer look at the sign.

You know what I’m talking about? The stick figure in the triangle dress. Her head is just a circle detached from her body.

You don’t need to read a single word to understand, this is the women’s restroom. So what does the women’s restroom have to do with the Olympics?

Well, during the Olympics people descend on one place from all around the world. And with some many people and so many languages the challenge is to figure out a way to communicate in a global way.

The answer: pictograms

Olympic pictograms are those stick figure pictures that depict each Olympic sport. Today they’re everywhere: at Olympic venues, on tickets and event schedules, on TV.

The first official Olympic pictograms appeared at the 1948 London summer games. They were simple drawings representing certain events, a bike for cycling, a basket for basketball, a pair of boxing gloves. But that was before one German designer Otl Aicher revolutionized the design.

“I think he’s the grandfather of the Olympic pictogram,” said Brockett Horne, who directs the Graphic Design program at the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore.

Aicher was commissioned to design the pictograms for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. This was no small task.

Otl Aicher's pictograms designed for the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games. (www.creativerepository.com)

Otl Aicher’s pictograms designed for the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games.

This was the first games in Germany since Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics. The visual legacy from those games was the swastika. It was all over the athletic stadium where Jesse Owens ran.

The German Olympic Committee was eager to erase that image; as was Aicher. He grew up in Nazi Germany. Refused to join the Hitler Youth and ended up deserted the army after he was drafted. This chance to re-design the German image for the world was huge.

“He was really interested in coming up with something that focused on the athletic events without any agenda, it shouldn’t have any hint or tinge of propaganda,” said Horne.

What could be more neutral than simple stick figures? Aicher created a grid of 21-stick figure athletes, biking, swimming, running. They were so elegant, so easy to read, that their influence began to be seen all over the place.

“No smoking, no diving, male and female restroom signs, the symbols that we see in use by Department of Transportation, these were all part of a larger international approach to creating a visual language that could help people communicate without words,” said Horne.

Aicher’s figures are so simple and so legible that you almost don’t even notice them. Not noticing is exactly the point says typographer Fabio Haag.

“We joke that that’s why every type designer drinks a lot, basically we spend all this time refining letters that people won’t even notice,” said Haag.

Haag designed the font for the upcoming 2016 Summer Games in Rio. His font inspired the designers of the Brazilian pictograms.

Pictograms for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil

Pictograms for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil

“When designing the pictograms they would actually print out the letters cut them with scissors and start to play around to see if there was an athlete’s movements in those letters,” said Haag, “So the dot of an ‘i’ became the head and the shape of the ‘j’ became an arm.”

Although the Summer Olympics in Brazil are still two years out but the branding, the font, the pictograms, were created years in advance all designed to evoke a Brazilian flare.

Despite what Haag says about design going unnoticed, if do you pay attention, you will discover innovative changes from one Olympics to the next. Not only are pictograms global tools for communication, they’re local, dare I write, glocal.

The pictograms from the 2004 Athens Games resembles the figures found on ancient Greek vases and the figures from the 2008 Beijing Games are based on a 2,000-year-old script written on bronze carvings. The 22 pictograms designed for Sochi are filled in with a “patchwork quilt” that looks like the colorful designs painted on a nesting doll.

Still, everything harkens back to Aicher’s 1972 figures. His legacy lives on for every graphic design student and for anyone who ever visits a public restroom.

Pictograms from the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City designed by Lance Wyman. (Virtual Olympic Games Museum)

Pictograms from the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City designed by Lance Wyman. (Virtual Olympic Games Museum)

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