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


In recent weeks, American TV rights holders of the upcoming World Cup have been holding press conferences ahead of this most unusual tournament in Qatar. For each, executives from Fox, which owns the English-language rights, and Telemundo, which owns the Spanish-language rights, were asked how they intend to treat the host country’s human rights record.

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

Telemundo Deportes President Ray Warren reacted differently. He said the network’s news department and that of sister network NBC would cover events in Qatar, adding that on the sports site, “I think we need to talk about the legacy we’re leaving. When the tournament is over, we [won’t have been] Ignoring the geopolitical issues that may arise.”

A spokeswoman for Telemundo, which is owned by Comcast, later said the network would follow NBC Sports’ approach to this year’s Winter Olympics in China; Hosts discussed the alleged Uighur genocide during coverage of the opening ceremony. The network expects to address the human rights situation in Qatar as part of opening day coverage on Sunday and throughout the tournament as required.

The differing strategies of the two networks responsible for broadcasting the World Cup to American audiences will come under scrutiny next month when Western journalists, fans and soccer players arrive in Qatar, a theocratic monarchy strictly governed by Muslim laws and customs is governed. The American team unveiled a new rainbow crest to 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.

Top British diplomat urges World Cup LGBT fans to be ‘respectful’ in Qatar

For Fox, the strategy is identical to the approach taken at the World Cup in Russia four years ago. But there’s another dynamic at play in Qatar: Qatar Airways, the state-owned airline, will serve as the main sponsor of the network’s coverage, meaning Fox’s production in Qatar will essentially be guaranteed by the Qatari government.

In June, Neal told Sports Business Journal that Fox would send a “small army” of 150 employees 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 are so close together.

But according to three people familiar with Fox’s plans, the network originally planned to primarily use remote production and send a minimal contingent of staff and talent to Qatar. The strategy only changed after the deal with Qatar Airways was completed; That arrangement included paid flights to Qatar, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose private discussions.

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

The Telemundo spokeswoman said Qatar Airways is not a sponsor of their 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 American broadcaster in the country, said two of the people who were told of the deal. They described that Fox executives are celebrating the deal because the network can deliver viewers a more robust show without having to pay for it.

Fox has opened a lavish studio on the Doha seafront that includes four stages and more than 20 LED screens.

In a statement, Fox said: “Qatar Airways is a key sponsor of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and will have a significant presence throughout our coverage of the tournament. Together with our portfolio of blue-chip sponsors, they give us the opportunity to deliver unrivaled coverage of arguably one of the best World Cups of all time with the long-awaited return of the US men’s national team.”

When asked if Qatar Airways’ sponsorship would impact coverage, a Fox spokesman said, “Absolutely not.”

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

The change in schedule from the usual summer World Cup was made to accommodate the extreme heat in Qatar and would be a headache for any American broadcaster. Rather than sharing the summer with just baseball, 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 championships between 2015 and 2023. Telemundo is reportedly paying around $600 million.

How the tournament is being reported – and how the Qataris are reacting to it – is being closely monitored. In an 11th-hour decision, Qatar reversed course and banned the sale of alcohol in stadiums. It was a leading story for many Friday morning news outlets and was featured in the latest news section of Telemundo Deportes’ website, but not on Fox Sports. A Danish cameraman started ahead of the tournament this week had a clash with Qatari officials who threatened to smash his camera for filming a live report in a public place.

The Athletic published an article this week by football editor Alex Kay-Jelski, in which he describes his mixed feelings as a gay man and sportswriter covering the tournament.

“Some [reporters] will write about great plays and goals, others will post stories about lineups or fallouts,” he wrote. “But many will also focus on what’s happening off the field, the fact that some LGBT+ fans are having to stay in safe houses, the families of the workers who died building the stadiums, the absurd politics that’s going on tournament brought to Qatar, about the reality of life for the women who live there and will live there when the circus has packed its bags and gone.”

Qatar Airways has been a visible brand in international football for several years. It was the front shirt sponsor of Spanish powerhouse Barcelona from 2013 to 2017 before the club ended the ‘social concerns’ deal. Today, Qatar Airways is a shirt sponsor of 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: “In Qatar there has been progress on labor and human rights. No one has claimed 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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