Fox to avoid World Cup off-field controversy in Qatar
NEW YORK (AP) — Fox plans to avoid coverage of Qatar’s controversial treatment of migrant workers during World Cup broadcasts, much as it didn’t address criticism of Russia’s government during the 2018 tournament.
“Our stance is if it affects what happens on the field of play, we will cover it and cover it fully,” David Neal, executive producer of Fox’s World Cup coverage, said Thursday. “But if it does not, if it is ancillary to the story of the tournament, there are plenty of other entities and outlets out there that are going to cover that. We firmly believe the viewers come to us to see what happens on the field, on the pitch.”
Neal spoke at an event to debut images of the network’s set in Doha made of LED screens, the hub of its coverage of a tournament that runs from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18.
“This set, in typical subtle Fox fashion,” he said, “I think it will be visible from Mars,”
Qatar has been criticized over its treatment of the workers who built the World Cup venues. Paris’ city government will not broadcast World Cup matches on giant screens in public fan zones amid concerns over rights violations of migrant workers and the environmental impact of the tournament in Qatar.
Neal said he did not regret bypassing coverage of issues such as racism and sexism in Russia four years ago.
“I think the quizzical thing about what’s happened with Russia is that they took all that international goodwill that they had correctly earned as a really great host of the World Cup, and that’s now gone,” Neal said.
Fox took over from ESPN as the FIFA’s U.S. English-language World Cup broadcaster starting with the 2015 women’s tournament and has rights through the 2026 men’s tournament in the United States, Mexico and Canada. It will televise 34 of 64 matches this year on the main Fox network and the remainder on its FS1 cable network.
U.S. Spanish-language television rights are held by NBCUniversal’s Telemundo.
Fox will have commentators call all matches from stadiums in Qatar, where the eight venues are within 35 miles (55 kilometers) of Doha. Four years ago, the 12 venues were spread around Russia and Fox called 33 matches onsite, including all but one during the knockout rounds.
John Strong and Stu Holden, the lead announce team, attended the event along with host Rob Stone, analysts Alexi Lalas and Maurice Edu, and reporter Jenny Taft.
With the tournament shifted from its traditional June/July time slot because of Qatar’s summer heat, games will take place during the NFL and college football seasons. Fox debuted a “Superfan Santa” advertisement last weekend tying soccer to Santa Claus.
“On Thanksgiving Day, yes, it’s great to be around family. It’s better to be around the television with your family so you don’t have to talk to them all the time,” Stone said. “So Thanksgiving Day, it is Luis Suárez. It is Cristiano Ronaldo. It is Neymar. It is Cowboys-Giants. That’s a lot of TV. That’s a lot of time you don’t have to talk to the in-laws.”
Some weekend games will overlap football coverage on Fox and other networks.
“When we first saw the tournament being moved to November/December, we, like a lot of people said, oh, boy, that’s tough. It’s against football,” Neal said. “We came to realize that it’s an advantage. The simple fact is there’s more eyeballs available in November and December than there is in the summer. There’s more people available to television who are able to tune in, and instead of having to attract people in from the beach to watch what we’re doing, they’re already there.”
The U.S. is back in the World Cup after a four-year absence.
“One of our proudest moments as an entity, certainly as a World Cup rights holder, was the month worth of storytelling that we did in Russia, and it was about that 33rd character: 32 teams and the host country,” Neal said. “This time around we got a huge advantage over that because we got the United States there. The United States team I think we all believe has a legitimate chance of getting out of the group stage.”
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