Written by Sport

World Cup Coverage in the Middle East

You may be sick of the World Cup now having seen today’s debacle. But I’m a bit confused about the coverage of the World Cup in the Middle East.
From what I can gather, the rights to the whole Arab speaking region – with the exception of Israel of course – were sold to Al Jazeera Sports. That station, part of the Qatari owned set of channels that also owns the Al Jazeera news channels, seemingly bought the rights from ART which is closing down.
During the World Cup, there’s been something of a subplot that put’s ITV’s little “snafu” during England’s opening game into perspective. There was intentional jamming of the signal via an Egyptian satellite distributor that prevented fans watching. This seems to have reoccurred at various points during the tournament to date.
In the UK we take it for granted that we can watch the whole World Cup – ITV and the BBC bidding jointly for the rights. The entire tournament – to FIFA’s chagrin – is a Listed Event. If you look across the rest of the world, different countries have varying levels of free-to-air coverage.
As I’ve mentioned before, the IOC has the Olympic Charter, one of whose stated aims is to:
The IOC takes all necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the different media and the widest possible audience in the world for the Olympic Games. (Section 49, Paragraph 1)
While that doesn’t explicitly mean free-to-air on every occassion – it certainly means that more free-to-air broadcasters than not transmit the games in their local markets.
As far as I can tell, that’s not the case at all for FIFA. Hence, in many localities, if you want to see every game, you need to watch both a free-to-air channel and a pay channel (e.g. France and Italy). I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s such a good thing to help develop football in poorer nations.
But what I find extraordinary is the pricing of the rights charged by Al Jazeera. We may complain when out Sky bills go up each year, irrespective of our pay packets not increasing. But we’re not charged $100 a month for the rights to a single tournament.* Even with our relatively high standard of living in the West, I’m sure that many of us would think twice about whether we really wanted to watch the tournament if it came with a £67 bill (especially after today’s performance). While some parts of the Middle East are very prosperous, many live relatively impoverished lives. Think of all the immigrant workers in Dubai, or the beggars on the streets of Morocco.
Now perhaps I’m missing something, and I’d love to be put straight on the matter if I am, but it feels to me that the World Cup is very exclusive in these countries. Undoubtedly, many will watch in bars and cafes across the region, but that’s not really the same as watching in your own home.
FIFA is an enormously prosperous organisation with its expensive Swiss headquarters, and Sepp Blatter’s “head of state” lifestyle. And I’ve no doubt someone at FIFA would wave documents showing how much money gets reinvested into developing the sport across the globe. Yet I still wonder about the avarice of an organisation that can make it so expensive to watch the biggest single sporting tournament in the world.
Please do comment if you can shed some light.
* Yes, I’m aware that a season of Champions’ League or Premier League football easily beats this, but it’s a cost spread over many months.