Doha, 10 May 2023 - Spending the best part of a decade helping Qatar deliver the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East and Arab world was an incredible privilege for James Varley – who led the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy’s (SC) media content team for more than five years.
After spending three years setting up the SC’s internal communications function, James stepped up to lead corporate communications, including the development of press releases, social media content, video production and more.
UK-born, James previously worked as a newspaper reporter, feature writer, editor and video-journalist. He spent two seasons with English Premier League team Leeds United before moving to Qatar to support FIFA World Cup preparations.
The 38-year-old spoke to the SC about his Qatar 2022 journey as part of our ‘Amazing: Delivered’ series.
Tell us about your role with the SC.
I joined the SC in January 2014 and spent the first few years setting up various internal communications channels. My brief expanded in 2017 to include all corporate communications, plus managing the media content team. During the World Cup, I managed a team of 15, including writers, translators, photographers, videographers and producers. Together we developed a vast range of content – such as press releases, website stories, fact sheets, videos and social content – for host country channels and media platforms around the world.
Why did you join the SC?
Working on the biggest sporting event in the world felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Growing up, I never dreamed of working on an event like this – it simply wasn’t on my radar. Getting the chance to work on the first World Cup in the Middle East and Arab world was something I couldn’t turn down. The legacy being created here will be unmatched in the history of sporting events. I had to be involved.
How did your team make a difference during the World Cup?
We developed a 360-degree content strategy which meant when we covered an important story, we created all the different types of content required, whether written, photography, video and fact sheets. We made sure the content could be posted on our channels while being suitable for media to pick up and use around the world. The objective was to cover all bases and make it as simple as possible for the media to publish our stories. The strategy proved to be very successful over the years and delivered earned media worth millions of dollars.
What are your biggest achievements and most memorable moments?
I think our biggest achievement was delivering so much quality content and seeing it shared around the world – telling the story of Qatar 2022 everywhere. We focused on showcasing the human impact of the tournament and the legacy it will leave for the country and region.
In terms of events, launching Khalifa International was a proud moment. It was very emotional when His Highness The Amir cut the ribbon at the stadium. As for the tournament itself, the opening ceremony at Al Bayt was such a huge landmark. After so many years of build-up, to finally see the World Cup here in Qatar was spine-tingling.
What are you most proud of?
Simply to have played a small role in delivering the tournament. I feel the real story of this World Cup will be told in 20 or 30 years from now, when people look back and see the impact it has had. I think it’s going to leave a major legacy for this country and everyone who was involved in it. For me personally, I’m very proud to have played even a small part in making it happen.
What’s your favourite memory of the tournament?
It would have to be the final. It was an unbelievable match and a privilege to be there. Seeing Lionel Messi lift the trophy was the perfect end to the perfect tournament. It was such a privilege to attend the greatest final in World Cup history – I felt like I was walking on air afterwards.
What are the main lessons learned from your Qatar 2022 experience?
The importance of planning and being prepared. One thing I drilled into my team throughout the years we worked together was the more prepared we are, the more content we deliver ahead of time, the easier our lives will be during the tournament because there will always be curveballs thrown at you during the event.
What advice would you give to people working on mega sporting events in future?
The best advice I can give is to immerse yourself in everything these events have to offer. They are genuinely life-changing for the people who take part in them, the people who deliver them and for the fans who attend. These are global events that everybody marks in their calendar. Everybody wants to be a part of them, and working on one is just an incredible privilege – so grab it with both hands and get involved in the thick of the action.