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World In Union: Rugby World Cup Day One

20th September 2019

The Rugby World Cup promises to be a visual feast but for a global audience to follow the tournament closely, linguists will have a part to play. 


Few things can bring people together more effectively than an iconic sporting experience. In the space of 44 minutes on one Saturday evening in July 2012, Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah lit up the London Olympics with three gold medals. Farah, who would add a second gold a week later and two more in 2016, was hailed as a British national hero. As a Somalian immigrant and a practicing Muslim he hadn’t always been accepted so warmly, but that summer Britain became the country so many of us had always wanted it to be; happy, tolerant and inclusive.

South Africa’s great moment of unity came seventeen years earlier. A nation whose apartheid policies had made it an international pariah reflowered with a home win in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Many rugby fans will remember that tournament for the spectacular power and speed of Kiwi wing Jonah Lomu. Many others will remember Nelson Mandela handing the trophy to Francois Pienaar, who paid moving tribute to his country’s leader and proudly told the world that the team had played and won for every one of South Africa’s 43 million people.

This year the Rugby World Cup comes to Japan. The first Asian hosts will deliver atmosphere and passion, and will no doubt seek their own iconic moments on the field. Off the field the Japanese people have already won the hearts of visitors with 15,000 fans serenading the Welsh team in their own national anthem during an early training session, and schoolchildren welcoming the All Blacks to their hotel in Kashiwa with a traditional Maori haka. The stage has been set for the tournament’s official curtain raiser today, when Japan take on Russia in Tokyo.

Rugby is of course a visual feast but for a global audience to follow the tournament closely, a range of language services will come into play. Over the coming weeks viewers and listeners will benefit from:

·         Translation and proofreading of speeches for the opening and closing ceremonies

·         Interpreting services at the many press conferences and also at disciplinary hearings for players of the twenty participating nations

·         Simultaneous interpreting in match commentary, to capture the flow and excitement of each passage of play

The linguists involved will need a solid understanding of the rules of the game, as well as the ability to process and recreate a message at high speed and under intense pressure. They won’t become national heroes and they won’t be lifting a trophy but on November 2nd when the tournament comes to a close they will have made a major contribution to the organisation and the enjoyment of this showpiece event. They will have helped to bring people together. They will have helped make the world happier, more tolerant and more inclusive. Good job.


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