Fox Sports’ coverage of next month’s World Cup in Qatar will focus on soccer and not the country’s controversial treatment of migrant workers who built the venues for this year’s tournament.
‘Our stance is if it affects what happens on the field of play, we will cover it and cover it fully,’ David Neal, executive producer of Fox’s World Cup coverage, said Thursday.
‘But if it does not, if it is ancillary to the story of the tournament, there are plenty of other entities and outlets out there that are going to cover that. We firmly believe the viewers come to us to see what happens on the field, on the pitch.’
David Neal, second from left, executive producer of Fox’s World Cup coverage, talks Thursday
Fox Sports soccer broadcasters Rob Stone (left), Maurice Edu (center), and Alexi Lalas (right) at Mercedes Benz Stadium for the MLS Cup between the Portland Timbers and Atlanta United FC on December 8th, 2018 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
Workers walk to the Lusail Stadium, one of the 2022 World Cup stadiums, in Lusail, Qatar
Qatar has faced intense scrutiny of the physical and contractual conditions for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who were needed in the tiny emirate since the World Cup hosting rights were won 12 years ago
Fox Sports’ coverage of the tournament is sponsored by the state-run Qatar Airways, which is owned by the country’s royal family.
Qatar has faced intense scrutiny of the physical and contractual conditions for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who were needed in the tiny emirate since the World Cup hosting rights were won 12 years ago.
In fact, Paris’ city government will not broadcast World Cup matches on giant screens in public fan zones amid concerns over rights violations of migrant workers and the environmental impact of the tournament in Qatar.
Neal said he did not regret bypassing coverage of issues such as racism and sexism in Russia four years ago.
‘I think the quizzical thing about what’s happened with Russia is that they took all that international goodwill that they had correctly earned as a really great host of the World Cup, and that’s now gone,’ Neal said.
Fox Soccer Analyst Jenny Taft during the SheBelieves Cup match between the United States and England at Nissan Stadium on March 2nd, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee
A woman walks past a construction site fence showing an illustration of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup mascot ‘La’eeb’ in West Bay in Qatar’s capital Doha on Thursday
Some announcers will address human rights problems within Qatar during the World Cup, including former England star Gary Neville (pictured), who will call games for beIN, a state-run broadcaster
It’s yet to be seen how much time World Cup broadcasters will spend highlighting the allegations against the Qatari government, which include 2013 claims by The Guardian that workers were denied food, water, and were stripped of their passports. Some allege they were not paid, or if they were, the payments were minimal and long overdue. A 2019 Daily Mirror investigation found that 28,000 workers were paid roughly $1 an hour over a 48-hour week.
Most damning, The Wall Street Journal reported in 2015 that over 1,200 workers died building the infrastructure for the tournament. Last year, The Guardian put that figure at closer to 6,500.
Qatar also punishes homosexuality with imprisonment and considers men to be the guardians of their female relatives.
In March, FIFA president Gianni Infantino claimed Qatar has been progressive on labor rights: ‘I am pleased to see the strong commitment from the Qatari authorities to ensure the reforms are fully implemented across the labor market, leaving a lasting legacy of the FIFA World Cup long after the event, and benefiting migrant workers in the host country in the long term.’
Some announcers will address human rights problems within Qatar during the World Cup, including former England star Gary Neville, who will call games for beIN, a state-run broadcaster.
‘Yes I’m going to the World Cup and yes working for ITV and Bein,’ Neville tweeted last week. ‘I will highlight those issues like I have for years!’
Neville recently condemned the channel in a documentary attacking the treatment of migrant workers in the country.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani meet on the sidelines of the 6th summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia (CICA), in Astana, Kazakhstan October 13
Al Thani (left) also lauded Russia’s hosting of the soccer tournament in 2018
Qatar has sparked controversy ahead of the World Cup.
On Thursday, Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, thanked Vladimir Putin for what he said was Russia’s support organizing the upcoming World Cup.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani also lauded Russia’s hosting of the soccer tournament in 2018.
‘After Russia made a great success in organizing the 2018 World Cup, Russian friends have provided great support to Qatar, especially in terms of organization, with the organizing committee of the 2022 World Cup,’ the emir said. ‘We thank you for this and we are proud of this relationship. This will continue until the end of the World Cup. I am very happy to see you, Mr. President. Thank you.’
The Russian president wished Qatar success in hosting this year’s event, which starts on November 20.
‘We are also doing everything we can in terms of transferring the experience of preparing for the World Cup, you know this, we just had the opportunity to talk about it with you,’ Putin said. ‘I would like to wish you success in holding this major event. I’m sure that it will be (a success).’
Neither leader specified how exactly Russia had helped Qatar, the first Arab country to host the World Cup.
One area in which Qatar has followed Russia’s example is by requiring fans to sign up for a mandatory ID, known as a Hayya Card. Similarly to the Fan ID scheme Russia introduced in 2018, fans use the digital Hayya Cards to enter the country and can only enter a World Cup stadium if they present a card.
Russia reached the World Cup quarterfinals as host in 2018 but is not playing in Qatar after being barred from the qualifying playoffs following its invasion of Ukraine.
The Guardian reported last year that 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since 2012
Fox took over from ESPN as the FIFA’s US English-language World Cup broadcaster starting with the 2015 women’s tournament and has rights through the 2026 men’s tournament in the United States, Mexico and Canada. It will televise 34 of 64 matches this year on the main Fox network and the remainder on its FS1 cable network.
US Spanish-language television rights are held by NBCUniversal’s Telemundo.
Fox will have commentators call all matches from stadiums in Qatar, where the eight venues are within 35 miles (55 kilometers) of Doha. Four years ago, the 12 venues were spread around Russia and Fox called 33 matches onsite, including all but one during the knockout rounds.
John Strong and Stu Holden, the lead announce team, attended the event along with host Rob Stone, analysts Alexi Lalas and Maurice Edu, and reporter Jenny Taft.
A vehicle runs past the FIFA World Cup installations in Doha
With the tournament shifted from its traditional June/July time slot because of Qatar’s summer heat, games will take place during the NFL and college football seasons. Fox debuted a ‘Superfan Santa’ advertisement last weekend tying soccer to Santa Claus.
‘On Thanksgiving Day, yes, it’s great to be around family. It’s better to be around the television with your family so you don’t have to talk to them all the time,’ Stone said. ‘So Thanksgiving Day, it is Luis Suárez. It is Cristiano Ronaldo. It is Neymar. It is Cowboys-Giants. That’s a lot of TV. That’s a lot of time you don’t have to talk to the in-laws.’
Some weekend games will overlap football coverage on Fox and other networks.
‘When we first saw the tournament being moved to November/December, we, like a lot of people said, oh, boy, that’s tough. It’s against football,’ Neal said. ‘We came to realize that it’s an advantage. The simple fact is there’s more eyeballs available in November and December than there is in the summer. There’s more people available to television who are able to tune in, and instead of having to attract people in from the beach to watch what we’re doing, they’re already there.’
The US is back in the World Cup after missing the 2018 tournament.
‘One of our proudest moments as an entity, certainly as a World Cup rights holder, was the month worth of storytelling that we did in Russia, and it was about that 33rd character: 32 teams and the host country,’ Neal said. ‘This time around we got a huge advantage over that because we got the United States there. The United States team I think we all believe has a legitimate chance of getting out of the group stage.’