Monday December 4, 2023

Fox Catching Flak For Tone-Deaf World Cup Coverage

  • Network’s early coverage ignores Qatar’s human rights record.
  • Viewers complain about coverage gaps in ‘Mickey Mouse’ production.
USMNT striker Josh Sargent heads ball towards Welsh goal during World Cup match
Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports
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It’s early, but Fox Sports’ initial coverage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is not exactly drawing critical raves.

Over the first two days, Fox’s commentators have been nothing but enthusiastic about the first World Cup to be played in the Middle East. But the network’s see-no-evil approach has ignored controversial topics — whether it’s Qatar’s persecution of the LGBTQ+ community, the deaths of migrant workers building stadiums, or the country’s oppression of women.

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Fox paid FIFA $400 million for exclusive English language rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in the U.S. It’s still early. But whether it’s the tone or the production, Fox’s performance over the first two days is drawing backlash:

  • On Sunday, USA TODAY wrote viewers were disappointed that Fox’s initial coverage “ignored Qatar’s awful human rights record.” The network’s coverage “often sounded like an infomercial for Qatar,” wrote USAT. 
  • Some U.S. viewers could leave Fox for Telemundo’s Spanish-language coverage or BBC’s coverage in the United Kingdom.
  • On Monday, the Daily Mail wrote: “Fox Sports is SLAMMED by American World Cup fans as TV coverage drops out multiple times in the first hour of broadcast… leaving viewers furious at ‘Mickey Mouse production.’” 
  • With Qatar tourism ads airing frequently during coverage, The Guardian reported U.S. viewers were sick of Fox “shilling” for the smallest nation ever to host the World Cup. “You can chill out on the propaganda. Just call the games,” tweeted one viewer.
  • The New York Post criticized Fox for beginning its World Cup coverage on the FS1 cable channel Sunday — and for the lack of a post-game show: “It just feels smaller than it should.”

Fox could have added more context, tweeted soccer commentator Roger Bennett. In stark contrast to the American network’s pom-pom waving approach, the BBC’s table-setter briskly touched on the biggest controversies, including accusations of corruption during the bidding process.  

The BBC, meanwhile, is getting criticism from the opposite quarter. One story asked whether  the BBC is guilty of “snubbing” the World Cup by shifting Opening Ceremonies coverage off its primary platform in favor of a human rights message by host Gary Lineker.  

But Fox’s critics shouldn’t be that surprised. Before the tournament started, Fox executive David Neal told The Athletic the network’s coverage would stick to the pitch.

“When they come to Fox Sports during the World Cup, they’re coming to us to see the world’s greatest sport being played in the world’s most popular tournament. We give them complete coverage of that,” Neal said. “We give them opinionated analysis of that. It is an editorial decision. We’re going to center on the World Cup. 

“If they come to us wanting to hear stories about other things, other events that have been in the news, they can go and find them at another outlet. That’s not what we believe they’re coming to us to see.”

Fox declined to comment for this story.

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