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The Pundit Whisperer of Qatar’s beIN Sports World Cup Coverage


DOHA, Qatar — There is probably nobody on the earth who has paid closer attention to the diction and pronunciation of the previous England soccer captain John Terry over the past month than Lassaad Tounakti, a 52-year-old Tunisian with a present for languages, a passion for cologne and an accidental television profession.

For Tounakti, understanding the minute details of the best way Terry speaks isn’t any casual affair. His ability to know Terry’s every utterance has been an important a part of one among the World Cup’s hardest, and least forgiving, man-to-man assignments: Because the major interpreter for beIN Sports, Tounakti has because the start of the tournament served because the voice of Terry and other retired stars hired by BeIN because it has transmitted the tournament night after night to Arabic-speaking viewers across the Middle East and North Africa.

It might probably seem, at times, like a Sisyphean task. BeIN Sports, the broadcaster based in Qatar, has devoted six channels to the World Cup, including two which might be Arabic only. Each is broadcasting tournament content for as much as 18 hours a day. There are pregame shows, halftime chats and postgame panel discussions, but additionally sideline interviews, on-the-street cutaways and fan-zone appearances. Much of that programming is beamed live longer than to the world, and far of it involves a fragile live dance involving Arab hosts and guests and former soccer stars who don’t speak a standard language.

Interpreting their words — quickly, precisely and continue to exist the air — requires a rare fluency in not only languages but soccer. For Tounakti, it means translating every word of Arabic into English within the ears of the previous soccer stars before flicking a switch — literally and in his mind — and immediately rendering their thoughts, delivered in English, back into Arabic.

Every voice is different. The English diction of Kaká, a World Cup-winning Brazilian, is different from that of the Dutch soccer great Ruud Gullit, and the nuances of their pronunciations are different from those of the previous Germany captain Lothar Matthäus.

Due to the sheer volume of coverage it’s providing, beIN is employing 4 staff interpreters and supplementing them with freelancers for the World Cup. Most interpreters work in a rotation, but there are some accents, some ways of speaking, that require just a bit of bit more expert handling. Terry’s thick East London accent is one among those.

“In the meanwhile,” Tounakti said, “John Terry is mine.”

Tounakti’s profession because the Arabic voice of beIN’s imported experts was in some ways accidental. As a delegation from Qatar prepared to fly to Zurich in December 2010 to make its final pitch to host the 2022 World Cup, beIN realized it didn’t have an interpreter who spoke each French and English.

Tounakti, a university professor with a doctorate in linguistics and experience interpreting for the country’s emir, was enlisted for the trip, which ended together with his voice relaying the shocking news that Qatar had won the rights to bring the World Cup to the Middle East for the primary time. “They are saying I’m the guy that made 350 million people cry,” he said.

In the last decade because the vote, beIN, which is owned by the Qatari state, grew into one among the world’s biggest broadcasters, spending billions of dollars on sports rights every 12 months and expanding into dozens of nations. Most of that expansion has been preparation for this moment: a month of televising the World Cup from Qatar.

While the 64 games have been a centerpiece of the coverage, a major a part of the network’s content has revolved across the high-profile guest commentators the corporate has hired at great expense to bring credibility, celebrity and commentary to its coverage.

Last week, on the street separating two buildings in beIN’s complex in Doha, Peter Schmeichel, a former Denmark and Manchester United goalkeeper who’s one among the corporate’s longtime analysts, arrived for a night shift within the studio accompanied by Jermaine Jones, a German-born former U.S. midfielder.

A Temporary Guide to the 2022 World Cup

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What’s the World Cup? The quadrennial event pits the most effective national soccer teams against one another for the title of world champion. Here’s a primer to the 2022 men’s tournament:

Where is it being held? This 12 months’s host is Qatar, which in 2010 beat the USA and Japan to win the fitting to carry the tournament. Whether that was an honest competition stays in dispute.

When is it? The tournament opened on Nov. 20, when Qatar played Ecuador. Over the 2 weeks that follow, 4 games shall be played on most days. The tournament ends with the ultimate on Dec. 18.

Is a winter World Cup normal? No. The World Cup normally takes place in July. But in 2015, FIFA concluded that the summer temperatures in Qatar may need unpleasant consequences and agreed to maneuver the tournament to the relatively bearable months of November and December.

What number of teams are competing? Thirty-two. Qatar qualified mechanically because the host, and after years of matches, the opposite 31 teams earned the fitting to come back and play. Meet the teams here.

How does the tournament work? The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of 4. Within the opening stage, each team plays all the opposite teams in its group once. The highest two finishers in each group advance to the round of 16. After that, the World Cup is a straight knockout tournament.

How can I watch the World Cup within the U.S.? The tournament shall be broadcast on Fox and FS1 in English, and on Telemundo in Spanish. You’ll be able to livestream it on Peacock, or on streaming services that carry Fox and FS1. Here’s the way to watch every match.

When will the games happen? Qatar is three hours ahead of London, eight hours ahead of Recent York and 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Which means there shall be predawn kickoffs on the East Coast of the USA for some games, and midafternoon starts for 10 p.m. games in Qatar.

Got more questions? We’ve got more answers here.

In a probability meeting, Schmeichel and Tounakti exchanged a little bit of banter before discussing the ways a show with live translation compares with a broadcast through which the guests speak the identical language. “You like to not have it translated because there’s all the time going to be a bit of delay and you’re feeling it type of upsets the rhythm a bit of bit,” said Schmeichel, a daily presence on British television and beIN’s English-language channels. “However it works.”

Tounakti suggested an impromptu demonstration, and Schmeichel gamely agreed. The goalkeeper then spent five minutes ruminating on his native Denmark’s early exit from the World Cup while Tounakti interpreted his every word. His translation, like his work on the broadcasts, was in fusha, a version of classical Arabic that is known across the Arab world but not spoken in any particular country.

The discussion moved to idiomatic expressions and the challenges they posed: One specifically, a phrase long used as shorthand to gauge a player’s true quality in England — “Yes, but can he do it on a chilly, rainy night in Stoke?” — could cause mirth, and no small degree of confusion. “What do you exactly mean if you say this?” Tounakti said. Schmeichel laughed and suggested it’d translate as “a hot Wednesday in Mecca.” He then departed for the studio.

“I’ll do it with you next time, Peter. Inshallah,” Tounakti said as they parted. The remainder of the night, he knew, can be all about John Terry.

That night’s match — England’s round-of-16 meeting with Senegal — would require Tounakti to summon all of his energy. He would, he said, be speaking for 90 minutes on the pregame show, interpreting for Terry within the studio and Matthäus, a World Cup winner who will work the sport from next to the sector.

Terry’s speech, Tounakti said, is filled with glottal sounds, making it harder for some nonnative British speakers to instantly understand every word. To make his point, he began right into a quick burst of what he believes Terry to sound like.

“The opposite guys wouldn’t have the ability to interpret him,” Tounakti said, explaining that the problem is just not due to quality of Terry’s English but somewhat a mix of his speech patterns, language and pronunciation. It might probably make capturing the nuance of his insights and evaluation difficult for interpreters with less experience.

On a previous show, Terry had complained concerning the translations being slow on three occasions. After that, Tounakti said he spoke with management. “I had to clarify to my bosses the jargon of football is different,” he said. (Terry declined to be interviewed for this text.)

A mistake in an elimination match is just not an option, Tounakti said. He began his preparations for the evening on the 45-minute journey to the stadium. He took two painkillers to forestall headache symptoms in the course of the show. Next got here a lozenge to assist his throat, which he said was showing signs of strain after weeks of each day broadcasts.

More rituals would come later. But because the small bus wended its way toward Al Bayt, Tounakti’s mind was already on Terry.

“It’s a special show,” he said. “You have got to be listening very rigorously, watching the sound productions, for each P-uh and B-uh. I’m watching his lips because you can’t miss it.”

Arriving on the stadium, he checked the spartan booth where he can be working and made the now routine call to his wife. “Hey, Rachida,” he said, leaving a voice message. “Don’t call me. I shall be live for one hour and a half; send me a message in case of emergency, be careful, bye-bye, ciao.” Tounakti said his family knows to not disturb him within the hours leading as much as a show. “Once you give me the headset I’m uprooted from this world,” he said. “I’m uprooted completely. I only hear my guest and I only concentrate to what is happening.”

There was yet another ritual before a sound test. Tounakti pulled out a bottle of Sauvage, a fragrance by Christian Dior, and liberally sprayed it on himself and people around him. The bottle stays on his desk; he would spritz himself several more times because the evening progressed. “It’s essential to smell good in case you meet a V.I.P.,” he said. But because the evening went on, and as the stress and workload took their toll, the true purpose of the cologne became evident: It helped relieve his stress.

Just a few minutes later, Terry, wearing a dark suit and a slim tie, appeared on a screen just before the show went live. “Hello, John. How are you, brother?” Tounakti said. “Are you good? Is it loud and clear? Crystal clear?”

Terry said all was well.

“He said, ‘Hi, mate,’” Tounakti said with pride. “Words matter. He could just say, ‘Hi,’ but by saying, ‘Hi, mate,’ he shows we’re friends.”

BeIN’s broadcast began with the host speaking Arabic and Tounakti speaking English for his audience of 1, Terry. The host spoke constantly for several minutes before turning to Terry and asking him a matter. Tounakti interpreted it for Terry after which switched to Arabic as Terry explained how this 12 months’s England squad gave the impression to be more united than those he played for a decade ago. The back-and-forth went on for several minutes, before the primary industrial break offered a probability to ascertain in with Terry. There was a small issue with the amount in Terry’s earpiece that was quickly resolved. And on they went.

There have been 60 more minutes before the match began. By the top of the evening, after the 40-minute postgame show was over, Tounakti had been interpreting for greater than two hours. He interpreted for Terry for many of it, but additionally for Matthäus at halftime and for various England and Senegal players and their coaches during so-called flash interviews after the sport.

Amid all that, Tounakti broke his rule about not smoking inside three hours of occurring the air again and again. And there have been no less than 15 more spritzes of cologne.

Finally, his job done, Tounakti rose from his seat, thanked his friend John Terry and closed the door behind him as he left.

“You see, it’s tiresome, it’s tiresome,” Tounakti said. “The on-site coverage has its own flavor, but it surely kills you — you reach your house at 2 a.m. and must get up at 9. That is if you feel drained. Now. It’s been really tough today.”

He would do all of it again the following day.

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