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Reporting on the World Cup in the Age of Social

It’s probably safe to say that you’re not going to see #FIFAMeasles2018 trending on Twitter when the World Cup kicks off in Russia on June 14. No, social is going to offer up behind-the-scenes glimpses, fans quarrels, and real-time highlights, as well as link you to places where you can own a piece of World Cup history by spending $130 dollars on, say, the official 2018 the Mexico Home Jersey (100% polyester).

We are living in a world where social media platforms allow professional athletes to own their own story and fans to broadcast their live game reactions instantaneously. But amongst the noisy #FifaWorldCup2018 fanfare, sports journalism continues to be critical to identify the facts, ask the tough questions, and provide context to breaking news out of the Cup. 

Perhaps the most important news reported in the lead-up to the tournament was that the World Health Organization recommended that everyone attending this year’s World Cup receive a Measles vaccination. Why? This highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease has seen a massive resurgence across Europe, Russia in particular, with more than 800 reported cases this year. 

Robb Butler, the program manager for vaccine-preventable diseases at the WHO’s Regional Office in Europe told CNN, “We do have measles circulating in the Russian Federation at the moment. Children and adults who are traveling to Russia for the World Cup should make sure that they have received two doses of the measles vaccine.”

This potentially life-saving World Cup news might get lost amongst the billions of social posts like the “Can you identify this player from his tattoo” quizzes. (Spoiler alert: It’s Argentina’s Nicolás Otamendi). 

Sports journalism cuts through the inevitable noise on social media, surfacing links between football and other sports like gaming, off-the-radar stories about fandom, and stories of World Cup past.

And remember when Russia and Britain were allies? This year’s World Cup is about more than just the football. When looked at against the backdrop of history, this kick-off in Volgograd is happening on the ground that still holds memories of the time the city was called Stalingrad, and home of a major battle in World War II that cost the lives of 250,000 Russians and 800,000 others.

The city’s iconic war memorial, as reported by the Associated Press, influenced the design of the new Volgograd Arena, which was built on a WWII battlefield. Deep foundations an low roof lines ensure fans have a clear view to the memorial. Those football fans come to Volgograd amid heavy political hostility, made clear in this reporting from the BBC.

Which brings us to “Putin’s World Cup,” the term some are using to define this year’s main event. The moment the envelope unfolded to reveal Russia as the 2018 host, journalists reported on the scandals, leaving FIFA outed as more corrupt than previously thought. Even Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s general secretary was quoted as saying “This is the end of FIFA.” 

From Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election to the war in Syria, this year’s Cup is rife with contention. And like the Sochi Olympics, Putin’s World Cup might be good for his brand, but it won’t change the post-Soviet reality and the feelings players - and fans - from other countries will be bringing to 12 stadiums across Russia that will host the 64 matches that will make up the 2018 World Cup. 

So when the World Cup kicks off this week, it is the journalists on the front lines who will report and provide context, history and background on the complicated and controversial tournament. A service some might argue is far more significant than merely providing a play-by-play of the action on the field, and where to get the best gear.