By RONALD BLUM
AP Sports Editor
NEW YORK (AP) — Fox plans to avoid covering Qatar’s controversial treatment of migrant workers on World Cup broadcasts, just as it did not respond to criticism from the Russian government during the 2018 tournament.
“Our position is that if it affects what happens on the playing field, we will cover it and cover it fully,” David Neal, executive producer of Fox’s World Cup coverage, said Thursday. “But if it’s not, if it’s incidental to the story of the tournament, there are plenty of other entities and outlets that are going to cover that. We strongly believe that viewers come to us to see what’s happening on the ground, on the ground.
Neal spoke at an event to show the first images of the entire network in Doha made up of LED screens, the center of his coverage of a tournament that runs from November 20 to December 18.
“This set, in typical Fox subtle fashion,” he said, “I think will be visible from Mars,”
Qatar has come under fire for its treatment of workers who built World Cup venues. The city government of Paris will not show World Cup matches on giant screens in public fan zones due to concerns about migrant worker rights abuses and the environmental impact of the tournament in Qatar.
Neal said he has no regrets ignoring coverage of issues such as racism and sexism in Russia four years ago.
“I think the curious thing about what happened with Russia is that they took all that international goodwill that they had properly earned as a very good host of the World Cup. , and now it’s on,” Neal said.
Fox took over from ESPN as the US broadcaster of the English-language FIFA World Cup beginning with the 2015 women’s tournament and holds the rights until the 2026 men’s tournament in the United States, Mexico and Canada. It will televise 34 of the 64 games this year on Fox’s main network and the rest on its cable network FS1.
Spanish television rights in the United States are held by NBCUniversal’s Telemundo.
Fox will ask commentators to call all matches from stadiums in Qatar, where the eight venues are within 55 kilometers of Doha. Four years ago, the 12 venues were spread across Russia and Fox called 33 matches there, including all but one in the round of 16.
Senior Announcements Team John Strong and Stu Holden attended the event along with host Rob Stone, analysts Alexi Lalas and Maurice Edu and reporter Jenny Taft.
With the tournament shifted from its traditional June/July timeslot due to Qatar’s summer heat, games will take place during the NFL and college football seasons. Fox ran a “Superfan Santa” ad last weekend linking football to Santa Claus.
“Thanksgiving Day, yeah, it’s great to be with family. It’s better to be around the TV with your family so you don’t have to talk to them all the time,” Stone said. Thanksgiving is Luis Suarez. It’s Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s Neymar. These are the 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 saw the tournament first moved to November/December, we, like a lot of people, said, oh boy, this is tough. It’s against football,” Neal said. “We realized that’s an advantage. The simple fact is that there are more eyeballs available in November and December than there are in the summer. There are more people available for television that can connect, and instead of having to lure people from the beach to watch what we’re doing, they’re already there.
The United States are back in the World Cup after four years of absence.
“One of our proudest moments as an entity, certainly as World Cup rights holders, was the month of storytelling we did in Russia, and that was the 33rd character: 32 teams and the host nation,” Neal said. “This time around we had a huge advantage on that because we brought the United States there. I think we all believe Team USA has a legitimate chance to make it out of the group stage.
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