At what time should the team coaches leave the hotel to arrive at the stadium to give enough time for the players to warm up? And how should the security staff be positioned and control the different access zones? If there is a medical emergency, what should the ambulance’s route be? For the pitch to be in perfect condition for the match, should the ground staff water it?
For a tournament to run smoothly, someone must have the answers to all of these questions and many more – besides the authority to make decisions based on that knowledge. In FIFA competitions, this person is the General Coordinator, the person ultimately responsible at a venue for everything that happens before, during and after a football game.
In order to ensure that General Coordinators operate under a uniform set of principles and guidelines, every year FIFA gathers the professionals assigned to its tournaments for an intensive workshop. This year, between 18 and 20 May, Zurich will be hosting the 17 FIFA General Coordinators from across all six confederations who will be working at the Olympic Football Tournaments in Rio de Janeiro, the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Colombia, the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan, the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea and the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
Over three days, the General Coordinators immerse themselves into theoretical and practical sessions to assure that the operations and processes compiled in the detailed 96-page* *handbook become second nature to them.
“An important part of the FIFA General Coordinator’s job is to adapt to the specificities of a particular venue or situation. However, the more you work under structured guidelines and processes, the more likely you are to deliver a successful event. This is the importance of a workshop like this one,” said FIFA Director of Competitions Colin Smith.
“FIFA is constantly bringing its tournaments to new destinations - such as Papua New Guinea and Jordan this year – and the work of the General Coordinators carries an element of legacy to it. By working alongside these experienced people, the local organisers learns skills and best practices in match operations and can then apply this knowledge to their own domestic matches.”
From different paths
Despite having been a regular for Ghana’s national team over the course of his career as a footballer, Anthony Baffoe never had the chance to play in a FIFA World Cup™ match. He did make quite a few of them run according to plan, though – including the final of Brazil 2014.
A FIFA General Coordinator since 2010, the former international is one of the most experienced participants of this year’s workshop, but even for someone like him there is plenty to learn from the presentations at the Home of FIFA and the practical sessions at Zurich’s Letzigrund stadium.
“You can never learn enough about this job. It simply involves too many factors and possibilities,” says Baffoe, who will visit the Maracana again two years after the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, only now during the Olympic Football Tournaments. “You are basically the CEO of the venue and, as such, you take major decisions, but a fundamental quality lies in the attention to detail. For each situation and item in your checklist, you should have a plan A and a plan B in store. It involves such a concentration that once the match is finished, it feels like you have played it.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Erika Zaar. At 32 years old, she has worked for the Swedish Football Association (SvFF) for the past nine years– the last five of which directly in tournaments. During this period, she has taken part in a number of international events both as a member of Sweden as a participating team and with the Local Organising Committees. Erika was appointed as a FIFA General Coordinator for the first time for this year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan, where she will put into practice all that knowledge of different areas.
“It is fascinating to aim for the same high standard regardless of where a tournament takes place or of how big it is,” explains Zaar following the first few sessions of the workshop. “The number of people watching a given game on television may vary, or the amount of people attending a stadium. These are factors that change the situation you face, of course. But it is imperative to have the same set of standards to follow across the board. It feels good to have a method to fall back on.”
The next time you see that man or woman in a FIFA Uniform before a game, right in front of the referees, make no mistake: each of their steps to enter the pitch are meticulously timed and are only a small part of their daily duties.