Normally the nail-biting experience for soccer fans begins after the start of the World Cup, but for the overseas military audience, that moment is right now.
As the World Cup kicks off Thursday, with the U.S. playing its opening match Monday against Ghana, American Forces Network is in a last-minute push to secure rights to televise the tournament, which is held every four years. The network is waiting for final written permission from FIFA, the international soccer football governing authority based in Switzerland.
FIFA did not immediately respond to a query from Stars and Stripes on whether they would give AFN the final approval to televise the World Cup.
U.S. troops worldwide are getting anxious. Several of them have turned to AFN’s Facebook page in search of answers. In Bahrain, local AFN officials said a ship deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility has even contacted the network about alternative World Cup options if AFN fails to get the broadcast rights.
“AFN fully understands how important the World Cup is to our overseas military audience. We’re waiting for the overall rights holder FIFA to give us written permission to air it. ... We remain optimistic we will get the rights to air the 2014 Cup as well,” George Smith, a network spokesman, said in an email to Stars and Stripes. He said securing the rights to the World Cup has been a two-year process.
If the predicament seems familiar, it’s because it is. The network didn’t get the rights to broadcast the 2010 World Cup until the day before the opening match — acquiring permission for all 64 matches that year.
For the 2006 World Cup, wrangling over the broadcast rights between AFN and FIFA made national headlines. Ultimately Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. acquired the rights for AFN five days into the tournament.
Those looking for alternatives to AFN can go to the FIFA website, which lists media outlets worldwide that have rights to broadcast the World Cup — some via Internet streaming.
The World Cup runs for about a month. The final game is on July 13 in Rio de Janeiro. The Americans will play Germany and Portugal — ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the world, respectively — in their quest to advance to the round of 16.