Sport and languages: dichotomy or equivalence?

On the 26th of April, 2015, a banal press conference in Spain made the buzz. The facts are that Almería’s football team (Andalusia) played against Eibar’s one (Basque Country).


Sport and languages: UDAlmería’s logo


Sport and languages: SDEibar’s logo










You should know that in Spain, regional languages are as official as the Spanish one. That way, in the Basque Country, the official languages are both Castilian (Spanish) and Euskera (Basque). Thus, when a regional press organisation attends a press conference after a football game involving a Basque team, they ask their questions in Euskera, and are answered in that same language. After that, the answer is translated in Castilian. The same thing actually occurs with all teams belonging to a Spanish region with a proper language. For instance, Catalan journalists speaks in Catalan with the FC Barcelona’s players and officials before the latter’s answers are translated in Castilian.

But in that specific case, some so-called Spanish-speaker journalists got really furious, invoking a disrespectful behaviour from the Basque team coach. It resulted that the coach, quite angry himself, eventually surrendered the interview.

This raises the problem of the use of languages in sport. It is not only about fighting with journalists about a supposed lack of respect, but also about understanding your partners, officials and supporters.

One of the most famous interviews of the sporting world, even though a really short one, is Éric Cantona’s interview after his process against a Manchester’s supporter in 1996. The interview actually only contains a single sentence from him: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.” A lot of theories had been put forward to explaining that wonderful thought. Nevertheless, until today, none was in a position to figure it out, not even Éric Cantona himself, arguing that he was reeling from the trial.


Sport and languages: Éric Cantona’s interview in 1996


Another example is the one of Giovanni Trapattoni’s famous Munich press conference in 1998. He switched from a very hardly understandable German to Italian, raging against his football players, as he was training Bayern Munich team.


Sport and languages: Giovanni Trapattoni’s interview in 1998

Changing sport, Rafael Nadal’s interview in Chile is one of the funniest. In case you wouldn’t know, Chile is a Spanish-speaking country and so the journalists were speaking to him in Castilian. But the Spanish tennis player caused great hilarity in the room when he actually answered in English, before noticing it and starting to laugh in his turn!

Finally, who else than Arsène Wenger, a polyglot former professional football player and current Arsenal’s coach, could explain why it is important to learn languages when you’re a high-level sportsperson?


Sport and languages: Arsène Wenger can speak French, English, German, Spanish, Itlian, Japanese and Alsatian.

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