American Forces Network officials are once again doing some last-minute scrambling to secure the broadcast rights to televise the World Cup soccer tournament.

The World Cup starts June 12 in Brazil, with the U.S. playing its opening match against Ghana June 16. Whether U.S. troops from Portugal to Okinawa will be able to watch the games on AFN is still up in the air, and that’s not sitting well with many viewers.

AFN officials are telling curious viewers simply that AFN is working “diligently to acquire broadcast rights.”

But on AFN’s Facebook page, anxious fans have given the network a yellow card.

“AFN, I know you are working diligently to get the rights to broadcast World Cup 2014. But could you please let us know how long it will take to make the decision?” posted Ram Bhattarai a U.S. sailor stationed in Japan.

In an email response to Stars and Stripes, ESPN said it had granted AFN permission to use its feed. However, AFN still needs to get full clearance from FIFA, the international soccer football governing authority, before it can broadcast the matches.

The entire process started two years ago and is now in its final phase, said AFN officials.

“When it comes to getting the rights to the World Cup, the AFN Broadcast Center first goes to FIFA to determine which countries have the exclusive rights to air the matches in their country. AFN then goes to the individual rights holders in any country where AFN is seen, and asks them to waive their exclusive rights for AFN to be able to broadcast the matches to the U.S. military audience stationed overseas. Once AFN gets the waivers from these countries, our last step is to go back to FIFA and ask permission to air the World cup,” George Smith, a network spokesman, said in an email to Stars and Stripes.

This isn’t the first time World Cup coverage has been a nail-biting ordeal for AFN’s audience.

The network didn’t get the rights to broadcast the 2010 World Cup until the day before the opening match. It acquired permission for all 64 matches that year.

For the 2006 World Cup, wrangling over the broadcast rights between AFN and FIFA made national headlines. Five days into the tournament, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. acquired the rights for AFN to broadcast the rest of the tournament.

For those already looking for alternatives to AFN, FIFA has a list on its website of media outlets worldwide that have the rights to broadcast the Word Cup — some via Internet streaming.

However, this won’t do much good for the many soccer fan servicemembers serving on ships at sea or in remote areas.

The World Cup runs for about a month with the final game July 13 in Brasilia. Along with Ghana, the U.S. team is in the fabled “Group of death.” 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.

Matt Millham and Dave Ornauer contributed to this report.

Twitter: @hendricksimoes


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