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Nostalgia For Sweetness And The Bite Of Reality

In the great department store of life, television shows all the pretty things along with, sometimes, garden tools and the dirt they go into. Viewers are attracted to the full range. Sports, of course, is the candy aisle, where television excels. “Life is like a box of chocolates,” said widely quoted world philosopher Forrest Gump. “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

booArrangements between television broadcasters and European football’s organizing body UEFA are specific about what is and is not shown during tournament match play. From kick-off until the final whistle the video signal used by all rights holders is produced by UEFA’s television provider. The reasons are abundantly clear: no unwanted product logos, no unsportsmanlike conduct and no disruptive fans. All video and audio is copyright UEFA, also clear.

Saved the costs of sending crews and equipment to various venues far from home most rights holding TV broadcasters are OK with UEFA providing match play video with 60 minutes pre-game and 20 minutes post. Each UEFA Euro 2016 match is a huge production: three dozen HD cameras, Dolby audio, multiple directors, data, graphics. It is very impressive. Major sporting event organizers, including world football governing body FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), have similar broadcast agreements meant to stifle piracy and preserve sponsor placement.

UEFA took over live television coverage of championship match play in 2008, FIFA for the 2002 World Cup. Earlier the expensive job fell to a provider selected by each host national football association. The IOC created Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) in 2001 supply all audio and video coverage of every event and every venue “to ensure that all IOC contractual obligations are fulfilled.” The biggest – richest - Olympic Games rights holders send gear, uplinks, crews, reporters and directors to augment the OBS output. More than 20,000 media workers are expected in Rio.

Not all broadcasters are pleased. German public TV network ARD and national public channel ZDF complained that the UEFA-provided video feeds ignored the fan riot immediately after the national teams of England and the Russian Federation played to a draw in Marseille. German viewers only learned of the melee from ZDF commentator Oliver Schmidt.

“Together with ARD we have contacted UEFA and presented our expectations,” said ZDF sports director Dieter Gruschwitz, quoted by Süddeutsche Zeitung (June 13). “We were not satisfied with the video supplied after the final whistle at the England-Russia game.” Broadcasters were also miffed that a streaker at the Turkey-Croatia match wasn’t caught by the TV cameras.

UEFA responded that their general video feed is not changing: No hooligans. ZDF, in turn, decided to use their own crew for the Germany-Poland match. “We have sufficient live cameras to cover everything,” said Herr Gruschwitz, quoted by Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) (June 16).

But this is the era of YouTube and smartphones. Images of hooligans taunting then beating each other through the streets of Marseille over three consecutive days and nights followed by similar scenes in Lille appeared everywhere blotting out the sunlight, metaphorically, of nice, happy football. UEFA relented, somewhat, offering to continue the post-match video feed a bit longer. There have been other ugly scenes with more likely to appear right up until the final whistle July 10th.

Other Euro 2016 broadcasters noted, dryly, the complaints of their German fellows. “So far, a complaint from us is not an issue,” said Swiss public broadcaster SSR-SRG spokesperson Daniel Steiner, quoted by Tages Anzeiger (June 14). “Commentators have the opportunity to verbally describe relevant events… (that) do not appear on TV. On the other hand, anarchists and political protesters who abuse sports events for their messages should not be offered a platform.”

In Poland the only complaint was that satellite operator Cyfrowy Polsat darkened the German public TV channels for the duration of Euro 2016. Polsat Sports channels are, with the usual exceptions, Polish television and internet rights holders. In the first quarter this year, according to (June 17), Cyfrowy Polsat added 4.5 million pay-TV subscriptions.

“The match feed produced by UEFA showed no pictures of the drama going on in the stands (at the England-Russia game),” said Swedish public broadcaster SVT sports director Åsa Edlund Jönsson, quoted by (June 12). “But via social media we could see quickly there was something dramatic in the stands. Unfortunately, it took too long to present what we knew.”

Despite the best efforts of organizers to protect their “beautiful” events being soiled by those with sinister intent, major broadcasters, of a certain age at least, are mindful of the dreaded possibility. The defining event, arguably, was the Münich 1972 Summer Olympic Games during which Black September terrorists took hostage then murdered eleven Israeli athletes and coaches and a German police officer. Legendary ABC Sports (US) commentator Jim McKay held the microphone for 14 hours, ultimately informing the stunned world: “Our worst fears have been realized tonight…. They’re all gone.” In 1992 he was the ABC studio host for the first FIFA World Cup tournament held in the US.

Football “hooligans” pre-date television, even radio. They have rampaged every continent save, so far, Antarctica. Newspapers and broadcasters began sending reporters to football matches specifically to cover “the crowd” in the 1960s. Efforts to “tone down” coverage of brawls and vandalism have consistently failed. The rise of social media turns a new corner.

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