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By Tony Attwood
Not many British people living in the UK read newspapers from outside the UK. But if they did they would realise that the picture of the world cup that is painted in the UK’s media is different from that seen in many other parts of the world.
For example, the German newspaper SZ recently gave a review of what is happening in the world cup that is totally at odds with the tales that we read in England. The report is behind a paywall, but in essence, the 1000-word article states that “Fifa has been broadcasting its own reality from Qatar to the world.”
What the TV pictures never show are the many empty seats in the stadia, which leads to inaccurate talk of sell-out games, nor the posters critical of Qatar, Fifa and the human rights record of both. And of course, there is no mention of the gradual unveiling of the biggest corruption scandal ever to hit the EU which is of course focussed on Qatar.
That latter event is being mentioned in the UK media – but not directly in relation to football. It is as if the scandal and the world cup are separate things! (See for example World Cup host Qatar implicated in European Parliament corruption scandal)
Refereeing at the world cup, if we believe the pictures we have been shown, has been of the best, and VAR is sorting out the final details of the last centimetre or two, which is absolute nonsense. We see fans celebrating, not the questionable events of what is really happening.
So this has now gone far, far beyond the fact that the English media criticises players but not referees which we often note. We have had moments of it before as when the media revealed how Chinese TV is manipulating images of matches and supporters but I don’t think we have had this level of manipulation before.
Indeed it is as if Fifa and Qatar has seen how the English media refuse to criticise referees or comment on their odd statistics, and thought, “that’s a good idea – let’s see if we can take it a bit further.”
We knew that Qatar would not allow interviews with people at games unless they were fully approved, and scenes involving controversial handball offences, will not be shown. VAR will often not be viewed (if it doesn’t fit with the fair play narrative).
There is the case where Saka was brought down by Upamecano just before the first goal and VAR had nothing to say about the situation. “The officially recorded replay only went back to the moment Mbappé set off with the ball on the left wing – it did not start with Upamecano’s action,” says the German report.
Of course, Fifa won’t say anything about this, but it knows, and we know this is a precedent because it is selecting carefully what information it gives to the referees. And referees know this, which means that any referee who agrees to work for Fifa is agreeing to work for an organisation which is deliberately manipulating results.
We know that the production company HBS, operates 42 cameras but it is Fifa that decides which decisions go to VAR and which are ignored. In short, it is manipulating games to help get the results it wants.
As a result, and as the SZ report points out, “TV commentators from various countries [have] repeatedly expressed their incomprehension during the games as to why some scenes were not shown again.” Of course this is just the start – the first time (I think) that we have seen wholesale manipulation of the images from a game by Fifa. With each tournament, the technology gets more sophisticated giving Fifa more and more chance to be able to pick and choose how it wishes games to be seen, and ultimately who it wants to win.
With each tournament, the English media are in more and more of a bind. They won’t ever criticise PGMO decisions, and so are now drawn into taking Fifa’s word for what happens in what are evidently fixed games.
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