ART television was attacked across the Arab world for denying people the right to watch the 2006 World Cup finals. Critics emerged from every television station, which did not obtain the rights to broadcast the world’s premier sports event. Financiers, cafés owners and visitors, as well as a 100 million Arabs whose most important concern is watching the football in Germany joined them.
Individuals were heard complaining that the Arab world was in crisis due to sanctions imposed by FIFA, football’s governing body, and that the region was hungry for football. The fact is, Arab governments intervened when it was too late, because they didn’t realize the World Cup’s importance or the dangers of depriving people from watching the football. Observers will notice that the public furor has outweighed previous protests against occupation or military defeat. The World Cup has shown it is more important than the Palestinian issue, Iraq, bin Laden and all other media events. Arab governments have found themselves obliged to reassure their people by providing promises or gifts, such as tents and large televisions screens, and buying the rights to broadcast some games.
Notwithstanding the information publicized by the losing bidders or ignorant governments, an important part of the crisis is that someone has to pay the price. The right to broadcast World Cup games costs money. Either governments should pay, since they control people’s money, their sources of income and taxes and dominate their local televisions, or private televisions should cover the expenses. The price of the four-yearly football extravaganza is less than the yearly contract to service warplanes, used once every twenty years.
Instead of threatening ART or pressuring FIFA, which is practically more powerful than all Arab governments put together, why don’t these government pay to obtain the rights to broadcast the World Cup, like other respectable organizations worldwide have done? Arab citizen can’t afford to pay 100 dollars to watch the games, as it is the equivalent of an entire month’s salary. Governments, however, can pay 5 million dollars on behalf of the 20 million people who want to watch the World Cup unfold. An even better solution would be for Arab governments to break their monopoly on terrestrial television and allow private companies to enter the fray. The latter will, of themselves, set out to buy the rights to show the games in advance, as others have done. This is the truth which critics would rather not discuss. Instead, they seek someone to blame for everything, from a deficiency in bread to the lack of World Cup coverage.