Every four years, miniature flags pop up on cars navigating Beirut’s thoroughfares while larger ones dangle from the city’s balconies. The flags are a clear indication of Lebanon’s fondness for what seems to be the largest international sporting event on the planet: The World Cup.
Despite never qualifying themselves, the Lebanese go football mad, mostly for the more successful teams like Brazil, Germany and Spain, though an occasional Italian, French, or Argentinean fan is not uncommon, nor is the odd Portugal supporter simply because it’s the team that international superstar Cristiano Ronaldo plays for. But with the tournament only a day away, the Lebanese could face a massive set back with regard to watching the matches.
State television station Tele Liban has been trying to receive the rights to air the tournament and top officials have said that diplomatic promises between Qatar and Lebanon will allow that to happen.
“What I can say from reading through the news agencies is that there is an agreement,” Talal Makdessi, chairman of the board for Tele Liban, told Al Arabiya News on Wednesday. He added, however, that while Lebanon has been granted the right to broadcast the World Cup through Tele Liban, just over 24 hours before the first match is set to kick off, he has yet to receive any instructions to proceed.
Initially, only local cable-provider, Sama, was granted the rights to broadcast the matches on BeIN Sports, the recently renamed channels that were once known as Al-Jazeera Sports. The cable-provider however was charging a package deal of $110 to watch the tournament.
“Unlike outside, you can’t watch games in Lebanon for free,” said a representative from Sama, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Threatening cable providers and television channels
Sama also released a statement yesterday threatening any cable provider or television channel that broadcasts the matches.
“Re-broadcasting the World Cup 2014 matches without a license is a violation of the company’s rights…It will lead broadcasting networks and cable network owners to be legally prosecuted over civil and criminal charges,” the statement read, according to daily newspaper The Daily Star.
Lebanon’s football fans will, however, remain hopeful that Makdessi’s channel is able to broadcast the matches considering the game times. Tomorrow’s opener will broadcast at 11 p.m. Beirut time, and the matches on days following it will be at 7 p.m., 10 p.m., and 1 a.m., meaning that many of the later matches would be very difficult for residents to watch outside of the comfort of their own home.
Restaurants and pubs are expected to stay open to broadcast the 1 a.m. matches, however many may shut down for matches on weekdays not being played between teams with large followings.
“I hope to secure the poor Lebanese people the right to watch the World Cup,” said Makdessi. The chairman of Tele Liban’s board earlier told media that he wanted to make up for the disappointments the country faced concerning basketball scandals that didn’t allow the team to participate in recent international tournaments.
Until Makdessi gets the go ahead, Lebanese fans are going to be left in limbo on whether or not they can watch the matches at home on their televisions.
But all hope is not lost as Makdessi mentioned, media outlets are reporting that Tele Liban will be able to broadcast the World Cup matches. For his part, Makdessi said the only notice he needs before putting the games live on air in front of Lebanese audiences is “half an hour.”