A history of the online World Cup

 by Martin Belam, 13 June 2006

In the run up to World Cups it is usual for acres of print to be expended on the history of the tournament. Not a single English newspaper supplement about the contest can have been printed that didn't mention 1966, and I'm sure the same can be said for this year's hosts, who view their triumphant 1954 West Germany team with similar rose-tinted reverence. All of which made me wonder about the online history of the world cup.

Of course this year there is a massive investment in online content around the 2006 tournament, not least by Yahoo! who are FIFA's official partners. With the competition's final round only taking place every four years, looking at the web presence for each tournament shows the astonishing step-changes in web technology and adoption as a mainstream media. At least, it does when the records still exist.

Last time around, the 2002 finals in South Korea and Japan marked the first time that Yahoo! partnered with FIFA to provide the official site for the tournament.

2002 FIFA World Cup site

One of the cornerstones of the 2002 site was the exclusive availability on online video via a Yahoo! subscription service, as this May 2002 story from CNET News illustrates.

The focal point of this effort will be a premium video-highlight service called "FIFA VIP Club." For $19.95, subscribers can view video streams through dial-up and broadband connections for each of the 64 World Cup games. Fans around the world itching to relive plays by English star David Beckham or the speedy Brazilian forward Ronaldo will be able to watch highlights between 2 hours and 9 hours after each game ends. All of the four-minute highlight reels will be available in six languages.

This is in marked contrast to the approach in 2006, where new media video broadcasting rights are no longer exclusively bundled up with Yahoo!, but available for separate exploitation by those with the national TV broadcasting rights, as evidenced by the BBC's online streaming of their World Cup coverage.

Some things don't change though, as this quote from the CNET News article also shows.

In one caveat to subscribers, Yahoo warns that it may not be able to guarantee access to the video feeds during peak hours.

The 2002 site no longer exists - it was relaunched and rebranded for the 2006 World Cup in December 2003, before qualifying for the finals began in 2004. A lot of the content, including match-by-match reports has been moved to the 'Classic Football' section of the current site. However, it isn't clear to me what has happened to the rest of the content. You can get to some of it with archived URLs like http://2002.fifaworldcup.yahoo.com/02/en/020703/2/1br3-pf.html, but a top-level request for http://2002.fifaworldcup.yahoo.com simply re-directs to the 2006 site. Searching on the current site for stories that I can see on the cached pages at archive.org yields no results. That seems a shame and a wasted opportunity to provide an online archive for future football (and web) historians.

Likewise the online presence of the 1998 World Cup seems to have disappeared into the internet ether. The current fifaworldcup.com site again has a comprehensive archive of results from the 1998 tournament, but there is no longer a dedicated France 98 website.

France 98 homepage at Yahoo!s World Cup site

Tomorrow I'll be looking at what remains of the online presence of the World Cup before France 98, the 1994 tournament which took place in the U.S.A., which was the first World Cup to have a world wide web site.

Keep up to date on my new blog