This image shows myself and fellow panel members Lyubomyr Pokotylo (CAFE Audio Description Commentary Network) and Julian Ronca (AD Commentator, Olympic Marseille) listening to Alan March deliver a live AD Commentary. Examples of Alan March's ADC can be found here.)
This week-end I was delighted to be invited to speak on audio description commentary at the third international CAFE conference at the Estadio San Mamès in Bilbao. CAFE (Centre for Access to Football in Europe) is a pan-European organisation supported by FIFA and UEFA. It aims to promote equal access to football for all and has been successful in implementing improved access features at recent European and World football tournaments.
During my session, I was especially pleased to hear from Alan March, who is a hugely experienced audio description commentator. and expert member of the CAFE Audio Description Commentary Network and Training Programme. During his talk, Alan used a comparison between TV, radio and AD commentary of the same goal to reveal just how crucial properly delivered AD is to blind and partially blind football fans. Unlike the TV and radio commentary we are used to hearing, good ADC should enable anyone - whether they are blind or non-blind - to understand what is happening on the pitch (and off it) as it happens. We saw in Alan's examples that TV and radio commentary is often just that - it comments on the action without describing it, and thus relies on the listening public also having visual access to what is happening. That this assumption of visual access routinely happens in mainstream radio commentary is beyond disappointing. As I know from my own experience at the 2016 Euros in Toulouse, good audio description can transform the match-day experience. If I can imagine the movement of the ball I feel immersed in the action of the game. But if all I have is general reflection on the players' performance, I feel completely isolated from the fans around me. As Alan's demonstration showed, AD commentary is very different to the kind of AD found in the cinema (and which I discuss here, here and here). ADC is as unpredictable and spontaneous as the game itself. It takes effort, commitment and energy to deliver a successful ADC. Like the simultaneous interpreters who translated our panel into French, German, Spanish, Polish and Russian, AD commentators are performing a hugely difficult and skillful task of immediate translation. Whilst certain elements can be prepared in advance, such as the lists of players and descriptions of the stadium architecture, the bulk of the ADC has to be delivered spontaneously. It is a thrilling addition to any game and is an example of what I call 'blindness gain' because it has the potential to add value to every spectator's experience. Like the audio book, ADC deserves to be taken much more seriously. It should be offered as a matter of course at all live sporting events and professional standards of training and accreditation should be developed to reward and recognize those who deliver it so well.
CAFE is passionate about all kinds of access. At the conference we also heard from football's governing bodies FIFA and UEFA about their access initiatives and there seemed to be a genuine commitment to make sure that major tournaments are accessible to all. Perhaps more importantly, we also heard from disabled fans about how better access has radically improved their experience. I was particularly struck by the testimony of Stephen and Morgan Parry who explained why it is crucial that all stadiums include Changing Places rooms so that non-ambulant disabled adults can access toilet facilities.
I was also interested in the conference for other reasons. This year I have been responsible for developing and delivering a new Translation Studies degree programme at Royal Holloway. With my linguist's hat on, I was fascinated to see the work of the simultaneous interpreters during the conference and frequently switched between English, French and Spanish channels on my headset to compare their translations. When the first of many videos was projected during the conference I also searched in vain for the audio description channel. Given that the tech was already in place for comprehensive simultaneous translation, it would have been very simple to include an audio description in the access provision. Indeed, if we think of AD as a translation service rather than (or as well as) an access service, all multi-lingual conferences might be more inclined to include it as a matter of course. I'm looking forward to seeing this put in place for the next CAFE conference in 2021 which I very much hope to attend.