Fox’s World Cup coverage plans to stay away from Qatar’s many controversies


NEW YORK — Qatar’s hosting of this year’s men’s World Cup has been dogged by controversy ever since the day 12 years ago when FIFA awarded its showcase to a Middle Eastern nation for the first time.

Indeed, the clamor started even before then, with allegations — including from the U.S. Department of Justice — that Qatar bribed FIFA officials to win the hosting rights.

Then came years of claims that migrant workers were mistreated while building palatial hotels and stadiums, and the transportation infrastructure to link them. A report by England’s Guardian newspaper in February 2021 claimed that over 6,500 migrant workers had died since the hosting was awarded. Last month, Denmark’s national team and its uniform supplier created blank jerseys for the tournament as a protest.

Now, with millions of fans set to descend on a country the size of Connecticut, there are new questions.

Will women have free reign in a nation where some hotels ban women from booking their own rooms? Will LGBTQ+ fans be allowed to be themselves in a nation where homosexuality is illegal? How will a Western standard of rowdy fan behavior be treated in a nation where alcohol is strictly limited?

You might not hear much about any of that during Fox Sports’ coverage of the tournament, which runs from Nov. 20-Dec. 18.

» READ MORE: FIFA open to compensation fund for migrant workers in Qatar

At a Fox event in Manhattan on Thursday, the controversies didn’t come up during the network’s formal presentation. The closest anyone came was lead game analyst Stu Holden, who said that having “all the fans from all the different countries in one singular place — it might create some wonderful moments, it might also create some chaos.”

But there was plenty of time around the presentation to ask questions of broadcasters and executives, and they were ready to talk.

“Our approach is clear, and it’s identical to what it was four years ago in Russia,” executive producer David Neal told The Inquirer. “We believe that viewers come to Fox Sports during the World Cup to see the greatest sports event in the world. They don’t come to us expecting us to be [HBO’s] Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, or [ESPN’s] E: 60. That’s not who we pretend to be, and I don’t think that’s what the viewer expectation is.”

However many viewers may disagree with that, Neal is not new to this. Qatar will be his fourth World Cup with Fox, after the 2015 and ‘19 women’s tournaments and the ‘18 men’s tournament. Before joining Fox in 2012, he was at Univision, and before then he spent over 30 years at NBC — including producing nine Olympics.

So he knows about the balance between on- and off-the-field matters at an international sports event. And he knows Fox’s coverage won’t look like NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage in Beijing earlier this year, where host Mike Tirico and many guests talked openly about China’s alleged human rights abuses.

“If a story affects the field of play, if it affects the competition in the tournament, we will cover it fully,” Neal said. “If it doesn’t, if it’s ancillary to the tournament, if it has to do with the construction of the venues or what have you, we’re going to leave that to other entities to cover. Our focus is entirely on the 64-game tournament.”

» READ MORE: NBC Olympics host Mike Tirico was glad he could freely call out China on air at the Olympics

Fox will have three news-gathering crews available to send to scenes. With the network’s studios set to be next to FIFA’s fan zone, they should have no lack of footage to capture.

And if not-just-soccer news happens in stadiums, Neal said Fox will not stay away from it.

“We don’t turn our collective vision away from something if it’s happening inside” a venue, Neal said. “If there’s a demonstration or something inside the stadium, it wouldn’t be possible to ignore … We will read and react.”

Neal also said his broadcasters “absolutely” will have free reign to talk about issues if they want to raise them. Lead studio host Rob Stone vouched for that.

“I think our responsibility number one is to the viewer and to the sport and to what the event is,” Stone said. “And if events come to light that need to be discussed, absolutely, we’re not going to shy from it.”

» READ MORE: Carli Lloyd, Maurice Edu, and JP Dellacamera will be part of Fox’s World Cup broadcasting team

The question is what if and need will mean.

“We’re guests in this country — at some point you have to be respectful for how they operate and how they do things,” Stone said. “And also take them at the word for what they said they are going to do change-wise, and continue to encourage that in the best way that that we can. … Some of these other issues, we’re not oblivious to them, but the focus always will be on the game.”

He noted that there are still many production meetings left before the tone of Fox’s coverage is officially set. But as of now, the direction seems clear.

“We won’t hide from the issues if they become prevalent and apparent,” said Stone, who will host his fourth World Cup for Fox after covering four for ESPN. “But right now, again — and I know it sounds like an old song over and over — we’re there to honor the sport and honor these players.”

Fans might not like how Stone and Neal answered the questions, but there’s no doubt that they answered them.

“Our charge going there, and our philosophy, is to cover the tournament,” Neal said. “We think we’ve got more than enough on our plate to cover the tournament. If others want to cover those ancillary stories, they’re free to do so.”

» READ MORE: Philadelphia’s 2026 men’s World Cup organizers plan for the scale of hosting the world



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