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How to cover an international sporting event

This week, I’m in Guadalajara, Mexico covering the Pan American Games. Think of them as a mini-Olympics, smaller than the main event, but requiring the same kind of massive coordination across multiple countries and multiple languages.

I applied for my press credentials months ago, but beyond being granted press access (which only came a week and a half ago), I have largely been left to my own devices by the organizers. Figuring out the most efficient, effective way to cover the Games has required a quick study. Though I won’t be able to benefit fully from all of my trial-and-error learnings during these Games, I’ll definitely keep them in mind for my next major international sporting event (Rio, anyone?), and thought I’d share them with you.

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1. Expect disorganization.

Coordinating an event of this magnitude is an effort that requires the heads and hands of hundreds, if not thousands, of staffers and volunteers, few of whom have event coordination experience. Expect that there will be disorganization and don’t fight it. Focus on your reason for being there, determine a single point person who can get you what you need when you need it, and steer clear of the negative vibes of other journalists who entertain themselves by complaining ad infinitum about the lack of organization.

2. Prepare as much as possible beforehand.

There are lots of logistics you won’t be able to figure out until the last minute, especially as teams get eliminated and the field narrows. Make a list of priorities- what are the sports and teams you want to see? Where are the sports venues located? How far are those venues from where you’re staying (and from each other)? In Guadalajara, the volleyball venue is an hour from the main media center and about 75 minutes from my hotel. Had I not done my prep work, I wouldn’t have made it into today’s headliner game between Cuba and Canada.

3. Check in at the media center and find a contact. 

Don’t make the mistake of picking up your credentials and the media guide and then jetting. Stick around for a bit and talk with staff. Who’s a point person you can count on (via email, mobile, or both) if you get to a venue and have problems getting admitted? (And even with a formal credential, it happens). What services are available to journalists? Here at the Pan American Games, both Canon and Nikon have booths where accredited journalists can get their gear cleaned and have minor repairs performed. Nikon is even distributing loaner gear for some journalists.

And to wind down at the end of the day (or, for some journos, at the beginning… ahem), there’s a tequila tasting stand in the journo cafeteria… free shots.

Also, confirm what your credential covers. It may (or may not) cover all events, but does it cover opening and closing ceremonies? Are there any special media parties (Bebel Gilberto is playing here, for example, at a press-only event).

4. Document everything.

By this, I don’t just mean the Games, but also your communications. If someone tells you, for example, that you’ll need an event ticket on top of your credential (which is the case for today’s volleyball games), get that person’s name and email; then ask for the name and email of the person who is responsible for distributing tickets. Make sure you always have someone accountable to trace information back to.

5. Dress appropriately.

Journos showing up in sleeveless shirts and open-toed shoes won’t be admitted to a venue at the Pan Ams. Be sure you know what the dress code is for the events you intend to cover.

6. Eat well when you can.

You’ll likely be out all day at a venue that serves chips and beer, so eat a heavy breakfast. Many of the main event venues are on the outskirts of cities, not inside them, so your options for a snack or a meal tend to be limited.

7. Pack for the day and keep your stuff close. 

Don’t assume you’ll have the chance to go back to your hotel for your back-up battery or memory card. Bring all your gear and keep it close at hand. Because there’s so much gear, so many people, and so much moving around, try to keep everything as compact and close to you as you can.

8. Make friends with the media.

Grumpy journos notwithstanding, chat up the other members of the media in the press box. This morning, I’ve met AP and Getty photographers from Spain and Germany, respectively, as well as Olympic historians. It’s good to keep in touch with these folks to share future opportunities, but it’s also got an immediate benefit- they can watch your stuff for you while you go pee.

Cuban women's volleyball team

Cuban women's volleyball team

 9. Bend the rules. 

Journos who are not credentialed as photographers can’t shoot photos from the press box at the Pan Ams. As I was looking for a way around this, I realized I could take my DSLR into the stands and shoot from there (which general population can’t do- they can only use small point and shoots). Nobody told me this; it was one of the many things I had to figure out on my own.

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