Ghana play Brazil in Dortmund today. This has got to be the most anticipated game on the African continent since Turkey beat Senegal in the 2002 quarter-final. In preparation for the game, yesterday we went to Bergisch Gladbach, just outside Cologne, to a Brazilian press conference and open training session. How many African media representatives were present? One. Us. As the only black man there who wasn't obviously Brazilian, they kept asking me if I was Ghanaian so that they could conduct an interview. They had to make do with a Nigerian television substitute.
After leaving Bergisch Gladbach, we went to watch Switzerland vs Ukraine. At the Rheinenergie Stadion in Cologne, I saw Jean Pierre Kongue-Esso, who I first met at the African Cup of Nations in January. He had been at the Brazilian training ground the day before, writing a report for Camfoot, (which you should check out). And guess what? He was the only African there. The day before Ghana play their biggest football game ever, and there's no African representative nobody to ask the opponents about how they plan to deal with Stephen Appiah (which I asked BTW), or if Ghana's reputation as the roughest team (most fouls commited) at the tournament is justified. Our resources are overstretched, but we still sent out a crew 75 kilometres away to do Ghana's camp, which was running at the same time as Brazil's.
This is something I've seen time and again at this competition. African media have been barely visible, and moreso in broadcast. A country as football obsessed as Nigeria should be covering the World Cup to the hilt. But they have to make do with us, a six man crew working round the clock to produce a daily 15 minute show. The simple fact is that Africa can't compete in the global media market.
To do justice to a tournament like the World Cup, you need to have broadcasting rights. Very few African media houses have the loot to buy the rights. FIFA might be a money sucking monolith, but even they can predict much more than a riot if they prevent Nigerians from watching the World Cup. So they have the LiM Group, which oversees distribution of media rights to the empty chest broadcasters in Africa. Infront Sports and Media, deal with FIFA's media rights, and you can see the World Cup rights allocation in this pdf. If you look at the African broadcasters, you'll see that almost every country's free-to-air station is affiliated to LiM. The national carriers can't afford it.
LiM is no television charity which drops broadcasting rights from the sky into football starved homes of Africans - they have control of advertising. After all, they've got to eat, right? LiM give the carriers the right to broadcast, but can only give them the barest minimum package, any extras are at the IBC arbitrators discretion. In all honesty, this package doesn't require the national carrier to even have anyone in Germany. The package allows NTA, say, to show the football, and then the official press conference, (there's a general media one after the FIFA one). This package doesn't allow the "money shot" of a studio presenter at the stadium, on the pitch, or in the mixed zone (where media and players mix). What viewers get is bland, identity-less coverage. Imagine the BBC doing football without Motty and Lawro being in the stadium to commentate.
The BBC World Service has a package which allows them to broadcast only 90 seconds of material from inside the stadium. After the match, you find reporters rushing for the gates so that they can file their reports outside the stadium gates. The World Service still had to pay for its measly 90 seconds. When Ghana beat USA, there was us, SABC, and Ghana's Metro TV, as the few African representatives. Metro TV have a similar package to ours, but do have priority for matches involving Ghana. SABC have a tiny crew here, but not nearly enough for a broadcaster that will probably be one of the host carriers in 2010.
That said, much can be done without being in the stadium, and that's what we've done. Globo TV of Brazil built a studio at the Brazil training ground. But Globo is the world's largest maker of Portuguese language programming, with 80 million daily viewers. NTA could be an African equivalent, but alas...
I understand that not every country can have a representative at every match, but the paucity of African media representatives is worrying. There would have been some matches with no African television media in attendance. Paying for the rights would be a great expense for any television station willing to take on the task, but having people on ground in the host country would be even more daunting. To make it work, you need immense television broadcast expertise. Outside broadcasts are the most complicated and expensive things in broadcast media, and very few African national carriers have the resources to do it justice.
Africa has had very little to shout about by way of qualification for the second round. Off the pitch, behind the cameras, Africa hardly exists. Here's to hoping that Ghana deal a blow for the millions of people watching soulless football coverage from their television sets in the shebeens, beer parlours, and shisha bars of the continent.