Baying for a story: China's football newshounds
SEOGWIPO, South Korea (CNN) -- Armed to the teeth with cameras and microphones, China's sporting paparazzi have invaded South Korea to hound every detail about the Chinese football team during its World Cup campaign.
China's 44-year wait to debut at the World Cup is being seen as the biggest thing to happen to football in the communist nation, with the deployment of a 400-strong media force to feed the insatiable appetite of the sports-mad public back home.
Only about 100 Chinese reporters, producers and camera crews in Korea have received official accreditation from organizers -- needed to access venues, press conferences and team training.
But with hundreds more hangers on chasing every last morsel of a news story the Chinese media contingent rates almost as large as those from tournament co-hosts Japan and South Korea.
The press pack is so bloated that its presence is being felt throughout the normally sleepy city of Seogwipo, on the southern island of Jeju, where the China team is based for its Group C clashes against Costa Rica, Brazil and Turkey.
Everywhere coach Bora Milutonivic and his players go, the pack follows -- stalking hotels, training venues, and restaurants in desperation for a scoop, a sound byte, or a picture to relay back home.
They cuss, they bribe, the squabble, they talk during interviews, answer mobile phone calls (loudly) at any time and make press conferences a test of physical strength -- all to try and get the best story or the best pictures.
The Chinese government controls all media in the communist state but dozens of sporting publications -- often privately backed -- have sprung up in recent years to compete in the sports media market.
The competition is so hot that the scene often turns farcical with a player trying to speak to more than 100 people crammed around him, almost disappearing behind dozens of microphones and questions that are thrust in his face.
"We are so used to living and working with lots of people that we tend to not care or notice anyone else as much," Jerry Wang from the state-run Xinhua News Agency says.
"We all compete for the same thing and that may be why some see us as more rude compared to other media."
Under such intense scrutiny the Chinese team is finding that the learning curve off the pitch is almost as steep as it has been on it.
Teams are required by FIFA, football's governing body, to allow media access twice a day, normally by allowing them to watch training as well as holding a press conference.
But outside those requirements, the media hunt has become so obtrusive that it has caused complaints from Chinese players that their privacy is being invaded.
Chinese officials have been forced to call on the press to give the team a "more comfortable environment, so the players can concentrate on the competition."
They have also placed extra plain clothed security men in hotel lobbies to ward off journalists.
While the media frenzy has somewhat backed off from the team, the battle in the press gallery remains fierce with tempers regularly fraying.
An interview between Milutonivic and a Brazilian television crew after training on Thursday was cut short after dozens of Chinese media started yelling and booing to complain that he wasn't speaking to them as well.
It then took more than 10 minutes before team officials were able to create some sense of order and space for the coach to talk, much to Milutonivic's resigned amusement.
Earlier in the week, a Brazilian cameraman, shooting a story ahead of China's clash with the South Americans on Saturday at Seogwipo, squared off with a Chinese reporter after being repeatedly bumped during filming.
Though the dispute did not come the blows, it is a common scene for those following the fortunes of the Chinese footballers
The media catfight is often so intense that following China's 2-0 defeat against Costa Rica Tuesday, one American reporter remarked that the press conferences provided a far more entertaining spectacle.
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