US viewers have criticized Fox Sports after its broadcast of the opening day of the World Cup ignored the host country’s human rights record
Qatar has been attacked for its treatment of migrant workers, allegations of corruption in the bidding process for the tournament and its record on LGBTQ and women’s rights. Broadcasters such as the BBC and Telemundo chose to highlight those concerns in their coverage of the first day of the tournament, where the hosts lost to Ecuador after a lavish opening ceremony that included contributions from Morgan Freeman and Jungkook from BTS.
In contrast, Fox heaped praise on everything from the air-conditioning in the Al Bayt Stadium to the variety of food available to fans to the “very welcoming” secretary general of Qatar’s World Cup committee, Hassan Al-Thawadi. A puff piece with Al-Thawadi followed in which he was allowed to speak in glowing terms about the World Cup with no questions from interviewer Jenny Taft about concerns raised by journalists and human rights groups.
Roger Bennett, the influential co-host of the Men In Blazers podcast, posted a clip of the BBC’s coverage and wrote: “This is how BBC opened coverage of World Cup 2022. Stark contrast to Fox Coverage in United States. Please take a minute to watch. This is how this World Cup should be contextualized.”
Grant Wahl, arguably the most prominent soccer journalist in the US, also tweeted a link to the BBC’s opening day coverage and wrote: “Big contrast between the Qatar regime-aligned coverage in the United States on Fox Sports and the coverage on the UK rights-holder.”
Other viewers on Twitter asked Fox to “chill out on the propaganda” and to stop “shilling for Qatar”.
In the lead-up to the World Cup, Fox executive producer David Neal said he did not believe viewers wanted to be distracted by off-field issues during the tournament.
“We really believe viewers come to us at Fox Sports for the World Cup to see the World Cup,” he said. Qatar Airways, the country’s state-owned airline, is a major sponsor of Fox’s World Cup coverage.
In contrast, Telemundo, which owns the Spanish language broadcast rights for the World Cup in the US, said it intended to take a stronger line than Fox.
“I do think we have to talk about the legacy we leave. By the time the tournament’s over, we [won’t have been] ignoring the geopolitical issues that might arise,” said Telemundo Deportes president Ray Warren.
The US team at the World Cup have made a striking, if subtle, statement about their views. They have prominently displayed a rainbow logo at the team’s training facility in a country where homosexuality is illegal.
“It is not just Stateside that we want to bring attention to social issues, it is also abroad,” said US head coach Gregg Berhalter this week. “We recognize that Qatar has made strides and there has been a ton of progress but there’s some work still to do.”