How Fox will cover Qatar human rights issues during the World Cup

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In recent weeks, the US TV rights holders for the upcoming World Cup held news conferences ahead of this most unusual tournament in Qatar. At each, executives from Fox, which holds the English-language rights, and Telemundo, which has the Spanish-language rights, were asked how they planned to cover the human rights record of the host country.

Fox executive producer David Neal said his network would not want to do the work of “Real Sports” or “E:60,” newsmagazine-style shows known for tackling thorny issues off the field. “We really believe viewers come to us at Fox Sports for the World Cup to see the World Cup,” he said.

Telemundo Deportes President Ray Warren responded differently. He said the network’s news division and that of sister network NBC will cover events in Qatar, adding that on the sports side: “I do think we need to talk about the legacy we leave. By the time the tournament is over, we have [won’t have been] ignore the geopolitical issues that may arise.”

A spokeswoman for Comcast-owned Telemundo later said the network would follow the lead of NBC Sports’ approach to this year’s Winter Olympics in China; hosts discussed the alleged Uyghur genocide during coverage of the opening ceremonies. The network expects to touch on the human rights situation in Qatar as part of its opening day coverage on Sunday and throughout the tournament as needed.

The differing strategies of the two broadcasters responsible for bringing the World Cup to American audiences will be under scrutiny for the next month as Western journalists, fans and soccer players arrive in Qatar, a theocratic monarchy strictly governed by Muslim law. and uses are controlled. The US team has unveiled a new rainbow crest that will be displayed at its hotel in response to laws banning homosexuality in Qatar. The Australian team released a video in support of the LGBTQ+ community and workers’ rights.

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For Fox, the strategy is identical to the way he handled the World Cup in Russia four years ago. But there’s another dynamic in Qatar: Qatar Airways, the state-owned airline, will serve as a major sponsor of the network’s coverage, meaning Fox’s production in Qatar is essentially underwritten by the Qatari government.

In June, Neal told Sports Business Journal that Fox would send a “small army” of 150 staffers and announcers to Qatar and that Fox would be the first American network to have announcers in stadiums for all World Cup games, in part because the venues so close to each other.

But according to three people familiar with Fox’s plans, the network initially intended to use mostly remote production and send a minimal contingent of staff and talent to Qatar. The strategy only shifted after the deal with Qatar Airways was finalized; that deal included flights to Qatar, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to reveal private discussions.

The relationship between the airline and network dates back to last year, when Qatar Airways announced a partnership with Concacaf and was the primary sponsor for Fox’s Gold Cup coverage, including signage on his studio set.

The Telemundo spokesperson said Qatar Airways is not a sponsor of its coverage.

The Qataris hope to use the World Cup to showcase their country to a wider global audience. A key part of that is having the U.S. broadcaster in the country, two of the people briefed on the deal said. They described Fox executives as celebrating the deal because the network could deliver a more robust broadcast to viewers but not have to pay for it.

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Fox unveiled an expansive studio on the Doha waterfront that includes four stages and more than 20 LED screens.

In a statement, Fox said: “Qatar Airways is a major sponsor of FIFA World Cup 2022 and will have a significant presence across our coverage of the tournament. They, along with our portfolio of blue-chip sponsors, give us the opportunity to provide unparalleled coverage of what is arguably one of the best World Cups ever with the long-awaited return of the US Men’s National Team.”

Asked if the Qatar Airways sponsorship had any impact on its coverage, a Fox spokesperson said: “Absolutely not.”

After this story was published, a Fox spokesperson sent an additional statement to the Post, denying that the network’s deal with Qatar Airways included flights.

Today’s Worldview: The political debate surrounding the World Cup in Qatar

The change in schedule from the regular summer World Cup was made to accommodate the extreme heat in Qatar and would be a headache for any American broadcaster. Instead of sharing the summer with baseball alone, this tournament will compete with the NFL and college football for viewers. Fox reportedly paid more than $400 million for the four men’s and women’s World Cups between 2015 and 2023. Telemundo reportedly paid about $600 million.

How the tournament is covered – and how the Qataris react to that coverage – will be closely watched. In an 11th-hour decision, Qatar reversed course and banned alcohol sales in stadiums. It was a lead story for many news outlets Friday morning, and was noted in the breaking news section of Telemundo Deportes’ website, but not on Fox Sports. Before the tournament started, a Danish cameraman this week met with Qatari officials who threatened to break his camera for filming a live report in a public place.

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This week, The Athletic published a piece by soccer editor Alex Kay-Jelski detailing his mixed feelings, as a gay man and a sports journalist, about covering the tournament.

“Some [reporters] will write about great matches and goals, others will break stories about line-ups or defeats,” he wrote. “But many will also focus on what is happening off the pitch, on the fact that some LGBT+ fans have to stay in safe houses, on the families of the workers who died building the stadiums, on the absurd politics that the tournament brought to Qatar. , about the reality of the lives of women who live there, and will continue to do so once the circus has packed up and left.”

Qatar Airways has been a visible brand in international football for several years. It was the main shirt sponsor for Spanish powerhouse Barcelona from 2013 to 2017 before the club terminated the deal for “social issues”. Today, Qatar Airways is a shirt sponsor for Germany’s Bayern Munich, although club members have pressured directors not to renew the deal when it expires in 2023.

At the team’s annual general meeting last month, Oliver Kahn, the team’s chief executive, said: “There has been progress in Qatar in relation to labor rights and human rights. No one has suggested that Qatar is a country that meets European standards. But if you want to change and initiate something, you have to meet people, talk to them and exchange ideas instead of excluding them.”

Steven Goff contributed to this report.


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