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Fox’s World Cup coverage won’t address Qatar controversies, but Telemundo does it on opening day

"If it’s ancillary to the tournament," executive producer David Neal said, "we’re going to leave that to other entities to cover."

From left: Rob Stone, Jenny Taft, Alexi Lalas, Stuart Holden, David Neal, Maurice Edu and John Strong at a Fox Sports event previewing the network's men's World Cup soccer coverage in New York in October.
From left: Rob Stone, Jenny Taft, Alexi Lalas, Stuart Holden, David Neal, Maurice Edu and John Strong at a Fox Sports event previewing the network's men's World Cup soccer coverage in New York in October.Read moreJonathan Tannenwald / Staff

This article was originally published on Oct. 13, then updated on Nov. 20 after the World Cup began.

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: World Cup 2022: TV schedule, live streaming, kickoff times on Fox and Telemundo

‘Our approach is clear’

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

‘We’re guests’ in Qatar

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 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

Qatari advertising influence?

On Nov. 18, the Washington Post reported something that had been rumored for a while, but was now concrete: Qatar’s state airline paid Fox a lot of money for advertising.

“Qatar Airways, the state-owned airline, will serve as a major sponsor of the network’s coverage, which means Fox’s production in Qatar is essentially being underwritten by the Qatari government,” the Post’s report said, part of a deal that started last year when Qatar Airways sponsored Fox’s coverage of the Concacaf Gold Cup.

Qatar Airways also signed a sponsorship deal with Concacaf at the the time, so the Fox presence was no surprise. Nor has it been surprising to see Qatar Airways ads on a range of Fox Sports broadcasts ever since. It’s been unpleasant for some fans, but not out of the ordinary.

But the Post reported that the deal went much deeper.

“According to three people familiar with Fox’s plans, the network was initially planning to use mostly remote production and send a minimal contingent of staffers and talent to Qatar,” the article said. “The strategy only shifted after the deal with Qatar Airways was finalized; that agreement included comped flights to Qatar, said those people, speaking on the condition of anonymity to reveal private discussions.”

A Fox spokesperson denied that claim, but the Post stood by its reporting and kept it in the article.

Fox’s pregame show on the World Cup’s opening day, before Qatar faced Ecuador in the first game, included an interview with Khalifa Al Haroon, a social media influencer named “Mr. Q” who runs the website The segment was widely panned by viewers on social media.

Telemundo’s coverage in Spanish

During a news conference on Nov. 7, Telemundo Deportes president Ray Warren was asked how his network would cover Qatar’s controversies.

He answered:

I’ll tell you that NBC News [and] Telemundo Noticias all have a history of covering the world – events in the Mid-East, in Qatar, wherever they occur. And they will continue to do that.

As it relates to Deportes, we will certainly cover anything that occurs that would affect the tournament, anything that’s happening in-country during those 29 days. And you know, I do think we have to kind of talk about the legacy we leave.

And by the time the tournament is over, we will have been not ignoring the geopolitical issues that might arise, should that occur.

On Nov. 20, during pregame coverage of the Qatar-Ecuador tournament opener, Telemundo aired a segment on the subject, hosted and narrated by Miguel Gurwitz. The network shared the clip with The Inquirer, and you can watch it below.