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Volume 7 No. 149

World Cup

Egypt "seems to have decided to broadcast" 22 World Cup games, including those of the national team, on Egyptian TV, "even without a proper rights contract," according to Robert Briel of BROADBAND TV NEWS. The Egyptian Competition Authority issued a statement addressing FIFA, saying that the FA "made an infringement of the Egyptian right to broadcast 22 games of the upcoming World Cup in Russia on its terrestrial channels." However, Qatari broadcaster beIN Sport owns the exclusive broadcast rights to the World Cup in the area. Because of a boycott by a number of Arab states, beIN Sports is "officially not available anymore in Egypt." In its statement, the ECA said, "FIFA must make available immediately to the Egyptian National Media Authority the rights to live broadcast through terrestrial channels 22 selected matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia." So far, FIFA has not responded (BROADBAND TV NEWS, 6/12).

MALAYSIAN COVERAGE: In Kuala Lumpur, Ida Lim reported airline AirAsia is the gold sponsor for the month-long free broadcast of 41 World Cup matches by state channel Radio Televisyen Malaysia, the Malaysian government confirmed Tuesday. Minister of Communications & Multimedia Gobind Singh Deo "thanked platinum sponsor Maxis and gold sponsor AirAsia for making the RTM broadcasts possible." Last week, Gobind revealed telecom Maxis is the main sponsor for the RTM's licensed broadcast -- which cost 30M ringgit ($7.5M) (MALAY MAIL, 6/12).

As England prepares to "board the plane to Russia," the number of fans following the team "has nosedived," with English World Cup ticket sales "sluggish" compared to other nations and twice as many sold to fans of Colombia, according to Jamie Johnson of the London TELEGRAPH. Heightened political tensions between the U.K. and Russia, fears of racism and homophobia and the high cost of travel to the World Cup appear to have "put some fans off," with just 32,362 tickets being sold to England supporters. This number puts England 10th on the list of countries that have purchased tickets with 2,403,116 sold globally. Russian fans have bought "nearly half of them," with 871,797 -- almost 10 times as many as second place U.S. with 88,825. Ahead of England is Australia (36,359 tickets sold), Peru (43,583 tickets sold) and Colombia (65,234). Sales have been "slow across the board" and more than 100,000 tickets, which were previously reserved for other FIFA constituent groups, were made available on the FIFA website on a first-come, first-served basis on Friday (TELEGRAPH, 6/12).

DIE MANNSCHAFT: In London, Simon Calder reported Germany is "likely to be the best-supported foreign team" at Russia 2018, "judging from flight bookings." Data from global travel firm Travelport revealed the number of passengers booked to fly to Russia between Thursday and July 15. The "strongest absolute growth in flight bookings" is from Germany, with 16,213 more travelers booked than in the corresponding period last year. Two-thirds more Americans will fly to Russia, representing 13,654 travelers. More tickets have been bought by U.S. fans than any other foreign nation, even though the country failed to qualify (INDEPENDENT, 6/12).

Serious "doubt has been cast over the wisdom" of Egypt basing its team in Chechnya for the World Cup after Mo Salah was "paraded around a Grozny stadium" by Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov, according to Ben Rumsby of the London TELEGRAPH. The Liverpool Salah was pictured posing with Kadyrov on Sunday "within hours of his country's arrival in the war-torn region, with his use as a propaganda tool condemned by human-rights campaigners and on social media." Under the Russia President Vladimir Putin-backed Kadyrov, Chechnya "has enforced strict Islamic rules," with numerous reports of "extrajudicial killings and torture in the republic." It emerged on Monday that Salah had been relaxing in his hotel room on Sunday when he was informed "an important guest had dropped in unexpectedly." When Salah went down to the lobby, he found Kadyrov, who asked the footballer "to accompany him to the stadium." Human Rights Watch Deputy Dir for Europe & Central Asia Rachel Denber said, "This is Kadyrov trying to capitalize on Chechnya being a team base to boost his own profile. ... It was 100 percent predictable" (TELEGRAPH, 6/11). The BBC reported FIFA has always maintained its commitment to protecting human rights and earlier this year said that it had "no grounds to believe that the choice of the Egyptian FA to locate its base camp in Grozny will cause particular adverse human rights impacts." However, anti-discrimination organization Fare Network Exec Dir Piara Powar said, "We have raised concerns about Chechnya being a training base for a long time. If you know Kadyrov and follow the way he runs the region, then you knew at some point he was going to try to gain some political capital, and I think he's done that." Amnesty Int'l said that the photo with Salah was "pure sportswashing." Amnesty Int'l Head of Policy & Government Affairs Allan Hogarth added, "Ramzan Kadyrov was always going to see Mo Salah as a walking photo opportunity, but Liverpool and Egypt football fans should look at the reality behind this cheerful-looking photograph" (BBC, 6/12).

Nielsen Sports' research found that the value of World Cup sponsorship dropped between the '14 event in Brazil and this year's in Russia, according to Bill Wilson of the BBC. FIFA sponsor revenue fell from $1.63B to $1.45B between events. Nielsen said that the '15-18 sponsorship cycle was "a tougher sell" than for the previous two World Cups. It added, "But a new crop of sponsors, including several from China, helped Fifa weather the storm." Chinese sponsors "stepped into the breach" after a number of long-term FIFA backers, such as Johnson & Johnson, Castrol and Continental, "ended their association after the corruption scandal at football's world governing body" in May '15. China's largest commercial property company, Wanda Group, is one of FIFA's seven official partners, alongside Coca-Cola, adidas, Gazprom, Qatar Airways, Visa and Hyundai/Kia. One of the companies Wanda owns is Infront Media, a sports marketing firm which owns the media rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups across 26 Asian territories. The value of World Cup sponsorship "may have fluctuated recently, but overall it has grown strongly in the past two decades," with FIFA's '15-18 cycle revenues "more than twice the amount" for the '99-02 period. Nielsen Sports Managing Dir Glenn Lovett said, "FIFA will be hoping to return to growth in the cycle leading up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It can probably look forward to support from Middle Eastern brands seeking to capitalize on the region's first World Cup" (BBC, 6/12).

'NEW PHENOMENON': BLOOMBERG reported the Chinese national team did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but when the tournament starts, "spectators will see six Chinese teenagers bearing FIFA flags and leading players onto the field." The flag-carriers, chosen by Wanda Group, are part of China's "record promotional blitz" at an event that is expected to draw 3.5 billion TV viewers in more than 200 countries. Chinese brands will account for "more than a third" of the estimated $2.4B in additional advertising spending worldwide related to the month-long tournament, Zenith estimated in a recent report. Zentih exec Jonathan Barnard, who helped compile the report, said, "What really struck me is how big a deal the World Cup is in China this year. It seems to be a new phenomenon" (BLOOMBERG, 6/11).

The World Cup opened its Int'l Police Cooperation Center in Moscow on Tuesday.

As World Cup squads and their fans fly into Russia for the start of the tournament on Thursday, "so do police officers from all the competing nations to help deter hooliganism and the threat of any militant attack," according to Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber of REUTERS. The country "deployed thousands of police to the 11 host cities to deal with an influx" of "potentially rowdy" football fans and other security threats. But "they will not be alone." Regardless of "any political differences with Moscow," the 32 participating countries have sent officers to help Russian police "spot troublemakers and prevent fans from having run-ins with the local authorities." Housed in an Interior Ministry training facility outside Moscow, the police cooperation center bringing them all together was inaugurated on Tuesday and hailed by its head, Colonel Roman Azyavin, as "a single family of international police forces." London Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector Joseph Stokoe said, "We take politics out of policing. We are here to ensure a safe and secure World Cup" (REUTERS, 6/12).

'VERY DANGEROUS': REUTERS' Denis Pinchuk reported police staffing "is so stretched in several Russian cities" that one union leader said that criminals "could benefit." Several police officers in cities across Russia said that their staff "were working long hours, patrols had been reduced and response times to incidents had slowed." Vladimir Vorontsov, who represents Russia’s 17,000-member Inter-regional Police Trade Union, said, "The situation is very dangerous. ... This could lead to grave consequences." There are about 900,000 police officers in Russia. It is unclear "how many are involved in World Cup security" (REUTERS, 6/11).

Women football supporters are launching a campaign before the World Cup "with the aim of changing the way that female fans are represented on the internet -- particularly in the images displayed by search engines." The campaign by This Fan Girl, which is also being supported by energy drink Carabao, aims to replace what the organization describes as "over-sexualised and non-representative" images at the top of search results when people look for images of female football fans. This Fan Girl argues that "most of the images that come top in search almost exclusively feature young, slim white women, which only represents a fraction of female football fans" (London GUARDIAN, 6/12).

The St. Petersburg Stadium, which has cost more than £750M ($1B) and is designed to be one of the "showpiece arenas" of the 2018 World Cup, has contractors "fighting a race against time to ensure it is ready" for kickoff. The stadium, which stages its first match on Friday and will also host a semifinal, has been "dogged by delays and controversy." Russian officials were "left red faced" by a nine-year delay in the completion of the 67,000-seat stadium which was due to be ready in '08, but was "only fit for its first match" in '17 (London DAILY MAIL, 6/12).

FIFA President Gianni Infantino will "not have to vie for attention with his disgraced predecessor," Sepp Blatter, on Thursday at the opening game of the World Cup. Blatter, 82, has an open invitation from Russia President Vladimir Putin to attend the tournament, "though he will skip the first game" when the host country plays Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium. But "any relief felt" within the FIFA administration is "likely to be short-lived." Blatter "remains determined" to travel to the World Cup (N.Y. TIMES, 6/12).

The musical instrument "to master" for this year's World Cup is the Russian spoon. Eight years after South Africans "blared away on their plastic vuvuzela horns" when the country hosted the contest, Russians are hoping fans at the tournament will celebrate by clacking their "lozhkas" -- spoons that beat out an "insistent, but quieter rhythm" (REUTERS, 6/11).

FIFA said that Argentine referee Nestor Pitana will take charge of Thursday's opening World Cup match between Russia and Saudi Arabia in Moscow. Assisting him at the Luzhniki Stadium will be compatriots Juan Pablo Bellati and Hernan Maidana, with Sandro Ricci from Brazil designated as the fourth official. The Video Assistant Referee team is composed of Massimiliano Irrati of Italy, Mauro Vigliano of Argentina, Carlos Astroza of Chile and Italian Daniele Orsato (REUTERS, 6/12).

Catapult Sports announced its tracking devices received FIFA’s stamp of approval. The devices will bear the organization's IMS mark to "denote they can be used in official matches." Until now, such technology was "only allowed in training." More than 1,500 football teams in 142 countries use Catpult technology to deliver performance analytics (GADGETS AND WEARABLES, 6/12).