As the aftermath of the indictments against FIFA officials accused of bribery and corruption continues to unfurl — implicating politicians and governments across the world and removing senior officials from their positions — the conversation about the power and impact of the World Cup has been largely focused on those at the top. But as Brazil was gearing up for the 2014 World Cup, the producers at Submarine Channel — the Amsterdam-based digital storytelling production team behind Refugee Republic and The Last Hijack — were wondering how life on streets of Rio was being affected by the construction of a new stadium and massive spending in preparation for the games.

In partnership with, Who Are The Champions? is a collection of 36 stories from the three most recent cities to host FIFA’s World Cup — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2014, Johannesburg, South Africa in 2010, and Leipzig, Germany in 2006. Stories from the streets of Rio were released in early summer 2014, before the start of the latest World Cup, to be joined by voices from Johannesburg and Leipzig, co-produced by Miriquid Film, later that year.

The interactive web documentary uses audio, text and photography to tell these stories, while a map of the city shows how close each person is to the World Cup stadium. Viewers can click on each storyteller on the map to be toured around each city, or choose from a gallery of faces below.

POV spoke with creative and concept producer Yaniv Wolf about the project and what these stories can add to the global conversation around FIFA.

POV: What do you think some of the 36 people in these stories might be thinking or feeling about the corruption and the indictments that have come down in the past couple weeks?

Yaniv Wolf: It’s good that there is this attention for it and of course, we should keep the attention on it. And I think that in the countries where the World Cups have been, they also want the world to discuss this and its problems. Though, sometimes I also feel like we are blaming FIFA for something that they shouldn’t necessarily be blamed for… In Qatar, there’s been reporting that people are dying and getting hurt building of the stadium, but actually that’s been happening for years already [during building and development]. Of course, it is the responsibility of FIFA to think of the local situation when they announce the World Cup to be happening in such countries.

But Who Are The Champions? is not trying to blame FIFA or to to say anything directly about FIFA. It’s really about the people that are living in the cities where the World Cup is happening. And we wanted them to let us know how the World Cup works for them. So we didn’t ask them, What do you think of FIFA? or What do you think of Blatter? or What do you think of corruption? We didn’t want to make it that straightforward, because then we knew what we would get, and I don’t think that’s the most interesting thing to hear. We really were looking for personal stories, and what people were doing during the World Cup, if the World Cup affected them in one way or another. So that was really the main focus for this project.

POV: Have you received any additional attention or feedback for the project in the past few weeks?

Yaniv Wolf: We’ve had quite a lot of reviews and mentions in the last week, in Holland, and also in Germany and the UK, where they were talking about this project because of the FIFA elections. They wanted to hear from the people in these cities effected by the World Cup. Everyone’s talking about Blatter and about the FIFA itself, about the corruption and how much money they make, but nobody’s talking about the people. So it was really nice that we got some attention, and that the discussion was not only about the corruption and about Blatter, but also about the people in the cities.

Who are the Champions? - Rio

Who are the Champions? in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Submarine Channel

POV: Going back to the start, what was the beginning of the project and its concept?

Yaniv Wolf: We started in December 2013. There were a lot of people talking about FIFA and about corruption, about [Sepp] Blatter and, well, all the things FIFA does. And we had questions about the World Cup — Are they making any money for the countries hosting the games or not? Is it worthwhile for countries to bid for the World Cup? There are a lot of contradictory reports on it, just depending on who you ask.

So we decided that this project would not be about getting inside FIFA but about the people living in the places where the World Cup is happening or happened. We knew that going inside of FIFA would not help much and would not happen. So we thought, why don’t we find stories from the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg and Leipzig — the three most recent World Cup cities and find out what the people think that work or live very close to the soccer stadium where the World Cup happened.

POV: How were the subjects found in each city?

Yaniv Wolf: In Brazil, we collaborated with Floor Boon, an correspondent based in Rio de Janeiro, and she was working with some fixers she normally works with. They were going on the streets and finding the stories. They wrote them down and sent them to us, and we told her which stories we were interested in.

POV: How long was the reporting and gathering process?

Yaniv Wolf: We began in December, and the World Cup in Brazil was happening in June. So we didn’t have that much time, actually, to prepare everything and to find funding for the project. We had all the finance in place sometime in April, and in the meantime, we were already preparing and making connections and finding stories in Brazil before the World Cup started.

We wanted to focus on the very near surroundings of the football stadium, where people work or live or hang around because they’re really influenced by the World Cup immediately. And we wanted to find both positive and negative stories, so we didn’t want you to only hear the negative stories about the World Cup and blame FIFA. It was really an a very open project — we wanted to hear what people were saying on the street.

Who are the Champions? - Johannesburg

Who are the Champions? in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: Submarine Channel

POV: Was it hard to find a balance between positive and negative stories?

Yaniv Wolf: It was different in each country. In Brazil it was very mixed. There were really people who were very happy with the World Cup. They said, well, I have a nail studio just around the corner, or I’m renting out my apartment for TV studios. So there were people who very excited, and then there were people who said, I had my business here everyday and all of a sudden I had to leave, and FIFA didn’t give us any other place to go, or give us any money — we just had to leave without any notice. Or, people who had thought they could make money out of the World Cup and that didn’t happen because people weren’t interested in their stuff, or there was merchandise from FIFA that was sold, and it could only be sold by FIFA, so they couldn’t make any profit from it. In Johannesburg, in South Africa, it was also mixed, but a bit more negative. And in Leipzig, in Germany, it was mostly positive.

POV: Do you think the amount of time that’s passed in each city since they hosted the games plays into public opinion about the World Cup’s impact?

Yaniv Wolf: Yes, but I think the thing that makes the biggest difference is the situation of the country itself. In South Africa, for example, there was no infrastructure at all. There was a lot of building done for the World Cup, but then after, all the investors moved away. So they had built metro stations, subways, everything, but then all the investors were gone and things fell into disrepair. Many big stadiums built for the World Cup are just left alone and not in use, and it’s really a shame, for all the money they spent.

When you look at Leipzig, Germany, they have invested a lot of money and they can use [what was built for the World Cup] as well. It’s like the Olympics in London. They were very successful because everything that was built is also used years after the event took place.

In Brazil, people were very angry that the government was spending so much money on the World Cup and not on education or on healthcare. But then when the World Cup started, well, of course the Brazilians are very football-minded, so everybody was cheering, happy that the World Cup was there. But I think if you go back to Brazil in a year, or maybe now already, then you will hear more negative stories than we heard just before the event started.

POV:How did you choose which of the 36 stories would be scrolling and text stories and which would be an audio stories?

Yaniv Wolf: We could really feel it in the way that the story was told — What we could expect, what this person could talk about, if it would have enough emotional elements for a web doc, or if it would be better in text. If there is only one anecdote or there’s only one story to tell, then we knew it would work better in text. In audio documentary, you really have to work with the audio that you have, so the stories needed to be a bit longer or have more narrative.

Sometimes we also had to depended on the photography. If we had good photographs, then we could make it into a video, and if not, then we’d choose to make a text story out of it. But mostly we were able to choose ourselves, and we had good photo material for both.

Who are the Champions - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Inside the World Cup stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Submarine Channel

POV: How did you decide to use an interactive map as the navigation for the story?

Yaniv Wolf: We did some research on how we could tell these stories, going from one person to another, and then we found a web doc we really liked where you were driving through the street. So we thought, well maybe this could work with Google street view. And then the whole navigation, going from one person to another, how we show it on the map, that just really works. The user can just learn by doing. We tried a couple things with a developer and designer and we landed on this.

When we launched the first part of the project [focusing only on Rio de Janeiro before the World Cup in June 2014], it was not optimized yet. The version that we have now with all three cities is much better than the version we had last summer. Now you can really go from one city to the other, see related stories and really cross between the stories. I think that’s what we wanted from the beginning — that you can really relate from Leipzig to Johannesburg to Rio. That way of navigating, plus seeing all the faces of the storytellers on the bottom, I think that works also much better. You feel much more related to people.

POV: This is about the World Cup and it’s about FIFA, but it’s a similar situation to what happens with the Olympics, when these giant outside organizations come in and really change these cities. Do you have any thoughts about how the project could be used or referenced in the future, or any hopes for what the longevity of the project might be?

Yaniv Wolf: We’re thinking about it. We could focus on future World Cups and also on the Olympics because it’s kind of a similar situation. I think we could be interested to make new additions to the project, but we would like to do it in another way. Or to find another way of storytelling, because we are always looking for new ways of storytelling and we always want to make it more original or interesting for the audience. We’d look at how we could make it maybe have another impact or a better impact.

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Emma Dessau
Emma is the Senior Producer of POV Digital. Since joining POV in 2012, she has produced new media and interactive projects including Whiteness Project and the Emmy-nominated Empire. In addition to helping to launch new storytelling initiatives for the series, Emma leads digital production and online outreach for POV’s documentaries on PBS. She helped grow the POV Digital Lab (formerly POV Hackathon), which is now a signature POV event. Prior to her work at POV, Emma helped develop an interactive city and community planning game platform ‘Community Plan-It’ with Emerson College’s Engagement Game Lab. She has contributed to several alt-weeklies and online publications as a freelance videographer and writer, and co-produced two digital documentary projects, Folk to Folk and The Story Store.