Eyebrows were raised when it was announced in February that FIFA had awarded the United States’ english language broadcast rights to the 2026 World Cup to FOX.
For a start, why do it 11 years in advance? Without any formal bidding process that would surely have led to the governing body getting a higher price, especially given the possibility that the tournament might be held in the U.S.?
It didn’t take long for rumors to circulate that the secretive, uncompetitive process was a way to placate FOX for moving the 2022 Qatar World Cup to winter, when it will clash with large men wearing helmets throwing a rugby ball and giving each other concussions for three hours every Sunday. Clearly, FOX might have had a different strategy in place for buying the 2022 rights if they’d known the tournament would be taking place six months later than advertised.
FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke as good as confirmed those rumors in February, implying it was done to avoid legal “issues regarding the decision on the time the World Cup would be played”.
(And making a weird love analogy to explain why FOX and FIFA did the deal: “When you are in love with a woman you spend time together and there’s one time where you say, ‘Hey, by the way, let’s extend’.” Hey, Jerome. Is that a broadcast rights extension in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?)
Back in February, this news was the sort of thing to inspire shoulder-shrugging and comments along the lines of “FIFA gonna FIFA.” Now, though, FIFA not gonna FIFA like that any more. And so the Daily Mail reports all this might open the floodgates for litigation regarding the tournament. After all, if a broadcaster can get a form of compensation for the date change, why shouldn’t the would-be host cities?
It’s a speculative argument that has a kind of limited logic to it, though surely the losers would have a better case for redress if corruption in the voting process was revealed, rather than simply a date change that happened because of the identity of the winner.
According to the story:
“If it is confirmed that FIFA effectively bought FOX’s compliance because they felt FOX had a legal case over the 2022 switch to winter, it would increase the chances of the losing bidders for 2022 – the USA, Australia, Japan and South Korea – claiming compensation for bidding for a World Cup under what might legally be claimed were FIFA’s false pretences that it would be a summer tournament.”
Perhaps the other countries could argue that they would not have gone to the effort and expense of bidding for 2022 if they had realized it would be in the winter – but had a country other than Qatar won, it wouldn’t have been.
The main usefulness of the story is to underline that anything to do with money, FIFA and the World Cup — any World Cup — is going to come under even more intense scrutiny. There now seems to be a credible basis for believing that contentious decisions could be challenged and successfully reversed.