Rights owner urged to drop football fees for tsunami countries

Asian TV giant ESPN/Star is being asked to waive broadcast fees to the Tsunami-hit countries of Maldives and Sri Lanka during next year’s football World Cup in Germany.

The Asia-Pacific Broadcast Union has called on world football governing body Fifa to put pressure on ESPN/Star, ahead of the tournament next summer.

The two counties, which bore the brunt of the western end of the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami, could miss out on seeing the tournament because their state broadcasters cannot afford to pay the broadcast rights fees.

The rights holder, ESPN/Star, forced TV Maldives, the national free-to-air broadcaster, to pay more than 2,000% more for Euro 2004 than it charged two years before during the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

The APBU said TV Maldives had since struggled to pay off the debt.

ESPN/Star owns the previously domestic free-to-air broadcast rights for the World Cup 2006 for numerous territories in Asia, including the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

John Barton, head of sport at the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, said: “If Euro 2004 is any guide ESPN/Star will be asking hundreds of thousands of dollars for access to all matches.”

Broadcasters had used all the available funds to continue television and radio operations, supporting the victims of the Tsunami, Barton continued.

He said the cost of watching football next summer could be spent on rebuilding the countries’ infrastructure hit by the tsunami.

“They are in no position to be handing over what would amount to a ‘King’s ransom’ for the rights fees,” he added.

“By anyone’s calculation this is over the top. It would be unconscionable for them to be exploited in such distressing circumstances.

“They are special cases, which require some sensible and compassionate reasoning.”

By Alice de Picarda

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