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Soccer enthusiasts around the Pacific criticized last week’s decision by the World Cup’s international TV rights holders to deny American Forces Network viewers the chance to see soccer’s quadrennial equivalent of the Super Bowl.

While only a minority of servicemembers and their families might scramble to view the matches on local broadcast channels, it’s a “diehard minority” that’s being short-shrifted, one All-Armed Forces soccer player said.

“I’m not happy about that,” said Beth Welliver, 26, of Des Moines, Iowa, an Air Force captain assigned to U.S. Forces Japan protocol at Yokota Air Base. She played on the All-Armed Forces team that finished second to host Netherlands in last week’s women’s Military World Cup.

“There are so many fans who have grown up playing the game. A lot of them stationed in Europe get hooked on it and follow these teams, and now, they’re not able to see any of them.”

Welliver was especially unhappy that Team USA’s matches, against Czech Republic on Monday, Italy on June 17 and Ghana on June 22, won’t be made available to AFN.

“That we can’t see even our own team is a little disappointing,” she said.

In a release distributed Thursday, American Forces Radio & Television Service officials said they couldn’t secure permission to telecast the World Cup “despite exhaustive efforts.”

“Because commercial broadcast licenses were sold around the world on an exclusive basis,” AFN industry liaison Tom Weber was quoted as saying, “the underlying international rights holder was legally bound and, therefore, unable to grant AFN permission” to telecast the World Cup.

AFN-Korea programming director Wally Cornelison said Monday he’s heard nothing new from AFRTS’ broadcast center in Moreno Valley, Calif., and does not “anticipate any change” to the international rights-holders’ decision in the days leading up to the World Cup.

“It’s all about the almighty dollar,” said Scott Samdahl, 37, a master sergeant with Yokota’s 730th Air Mobility Squadron. A native of San Jose, Calif., he has officiated military and high school soccer in the Pacific and Europe since 1991 and has served as the U.S. Soccer Federation’s state referee for the Pacific the past three years.

“It’s sad that money has dictated that military servicemembers won’t see the World Cup. This is the biggest sport in the world. For people stationed overseas, it’s a big part of the culture all around us. This is the big-money rights holders saying they don’t care, that the U.S. military isn’t worth donating or giving it at a fraction of the cost to AFN.”

“That’s pretty lame,” said Dianne Abel, a senior striker for Kadena High School on Okinawa. “A lot of people play soccer over here and that’s one thing they’ve been looking forward to for four years.”

That’s not to say World Cup matches won’t be telecast where the U.S. military is stationed, but it might require a crash course in Korean or Japanese for an English-speaking servicemember to understand the commentary.

Every World Cup match will be telecast on one of South Korea’s over-the-air networks — SBS, MBC and KBS — and in Japan on NHK, TV Asahi, TBS, TV Tokyo and Fuji TV — but all in native languages.

ESPN and ABC hold the cable and over-the-air television rights in the United States.

Naoko Sekioka and Chiyomi Sumida of Stars and Stripes contributed to this report.

Team USA games

In Japan, Team USA vs. Czech Republic will air live at 12:45 a.m. June 13 on NHK’s over-the-air and Broadcast Satellite-1 channels and tape-delayed at 3:10 p.m. on BS-1.

June 18, Team USA vs. Italy airs live at 3:45 a.m. and tape-delayed at 5:10 p.m. on BS-1. The Ghana match airs live at 10:45 p.m. on June 22 and tape-delayed at 8:10 a.m. on June 23 on BS-1.

South Korea is in the same time zone as Japan. It was not immediately known on which channels Team USA’s first-round matches will air in South Korea.

— Stars and Stripes

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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