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Many Lebanese not able to watch World Cup matches

Many Lebanese have been dismayed by the news that the 2022 FIFA World Cup will not be broadcast on the public channel Tele Liban due to financial difficulties.
Lebanon fans cheer during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Asian qualification soccer match between the United Arab Emrites and Lebanon at Zabeel Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sept. 2, 2021.

BEIRUT — While FIFA World Cup fever has also reached Lebanon, with streets, cars and social media pages awash with the national teams’ flags and players’ photos, many Lebanese are having a hard time watching the games and cheering on their favorite teams.

The Lebanese government has failed to negotiate the broadcasting of the World Cup on the public channel Tele Liban, citing difficulties in settling payments. This is not to mention the costly private TV channel subscriptions to the matches, which many Lebanese cannot afford.  

“I am obsessed with the World Cup, but I am not watching any games because it is not being broadcast on Tele Liban,” Hiba Hakwati, a 36-year-old housewife, told Al-Monitor.

She said, “I did not subscribe to any other channel that is broadcasting the games because I have priorities, and everything has become so expensive in Lebanon. My young daughter has a problem with her eyes and needs several surgeries. I am also pregnant with another baby girl.”

Hakwati added, “The living situation in Lebanon has gone from bad to worse."

Amid the collapse of their national currency, many Lebanese are left with two choices to watch the games: either pay an exorbitant amount in fresh dollars for subscriptions or go out to expensive cafes.

Tala Abdo, a 25-year-old physiotherapist from the Bekaa Valley, told Al-Monitor, “I paid $145 for a one-month subscription to beIN Sports because my father is obsessed with soccer.”

“I cannot say how stressed out he is because of the economic and living conditions in Lebanon, so I thought that allowing him to watch the games would maybe help him to take the edge off and to vent a little,” she said.

Abdo, who landed her job about six months ago, is currently earning $500 a month.

“I really had to let go of many things I wanted to get this month to pay for my father’s subscription. If I hadn’t had my job, I wouldn't have been able to pay for anything,” she said.

Meanwhile, other Lebanese go to cafes that are broadcasting World Cup matches. These establishments also request entrance fees, which differ per area.

Hassan Saleh, an English teacher, told Al-Monitor, “The average cover charge per person is no less than 200,000 Lebanese pounds [$5] in the southern suburb of Beirut. This is why it is difficult for me and for anyone with a low salary to keep up this pace during the World Cup month.” 

He added, “But some cafes in the area are not expensive, as they do not ask for a minimum charge. But these cafes are usually not very decent. I can’t take my fiancee or underage children there."

Many Lebanese suffer from the country's dire economic situation due to the collapse of the national currency and the skyrocketing prices of goods and services, at all medical, educational and food levels.

Some soccer fans resorted to free phone applications broadcasting the matches, but hit another obstacle:  the long hours of power cuts and rationed electricity from private generators due to the high prices of fuel, in addition to the high prices of data bundles and internet offers for phones.

“Watching the matches on my phone is like a punishment for me, but for others it remains the best option. Owners of the private generators are trying to keep the power on during the games, but there are four matches a day and they cannot cover all of them,” Saleh said.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Derbas told Al-Monitor, “I bought a receiver for $15 that works on the IPTV system via the internet. But it turned out that the stations broadcasting the matches are either in Polish, French or German.”

“The language barrier is a big deal for me, but I try to manage. I am a soccer fan and I know the rules of the game, which helps me understand what is happening on the field. But not everyone has soccer knowledge,” he added.

The Lebanese are still waiting for their government to pay the necessary subscriptions for the official TV channel to broadcast the World Cup matches.  

“We are doing our best, I hope we will be able to do something about it,” caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said in a televised statement Nov. 22. 

Mesbah al-Ali, media adviser to the information minister, told Al-Monitor, “There are two main obstacles. First, this is a caretaker government, and the Cabinet cannot convene to decide on settling payment for the World Cup matches. Second, we were promised more than one solution to broadcast the World Cup on all local channels via the official TV channel. I am not sure where we stand now. I hope that Qatar will respond to our request.”

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