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Watching the World Cup

I finished Kimmy’s birthday movie with over a week to spare. Go me! It turned out pretty good, if I say so myself, but I’ll be sure to post here the raving reviews I’m certain to receive after its premiere this coming weekend.

Of course, I spent so much time focusing on that one project over the last three months, that a ton of other projects piled up behind it.

And as if I needed any more things to distract me, something really important and non-negotiable in nature sneaked up on me – The World Cup.

I recognize that most of my readers have little care for The Beautiful Game – feel free to skip the rest of this entry. I’ve been so neglectful a blogger recently that I deserve to be ignored when I finally find something I deem worth spending time on writing up.

Actually, it is a bit too early for any strong impressions of this Cup – 12 of the 32 teams are yet to take field for their opening games. I have to say that I am slightly disappointed by the quality of football that I’ve seen so far, but no major surprised have occurred, a few title favorites that have already played confirmed their claims, a few weaker teams were exposed as prime candidates for group stage elimination.

What I am mostly incredulous about is the quality of commentary and analysis on ESPN/ABC. I suppose I should not be complaining overall, with every single game available on prime channels live in magnificent HD. Furthermore, with British Sky network apparently not getting any broadcast rights for the Cup, ESPN/ABC hired several Sky commentators and talking heads to spice up the proceedings. I happened to like a number of those guys while I was a Sky subscriber.

Here in the States, they show immediate signs of degradation. Led by ESPN anchors who are all in love with the sound of their voice and can never condone asking a question that does not have several sub-questions and not take three time as long to ask as to answer, all of these commentators slide into meaningless platitudes, cliches and occasional sweeping over-dramatizations. They spend more time reminding the viewer of the upcoming coverage (ending each such reminder with the inane tagline: “Remember, one game changes everything!” – WTF?) than actually commentating. They try to sensationalize things as much as they can at the expense of the game analysis.

And what about those slo-mo close-ups of footballers’ grimacing faces every couple of minutes? Must be the next bright idea someone had about making football more appealing to an average American viewer: Inject emotions into the broadcast! Hey, this is not golf. You want to fill the pause in proceedings, show me a replay of the last key moment in the game, rather than what the broadcast director feels is the example of the players “feeling it”.

And the information graphics that comes up on the screen a la baseball stats is sometimes simply laughable. Every other fact is bound to be incorrect, from Holland listed as getting 4th place as their best result to-date (in fact, it was a runner-up not once but twice) to the names of clubs to which players belong misspelled or probably invented (how one misspells “Alaniya” to get “Kublan” for one Nigerian midfielder who plies his trade in Russia is beyond me).

It all looks so amateurish it is not even funny.

Reminds me of the Soviet TV coverage of the 1990 World Cup. Then, as one star player from each country would give a short immediate postgame interview, somebody in the TV hierarchy decided that it would be a grand idea to include those interviews in the broadcasts. The interviews were conducted in each player’s native language. For whatever reason, nobody cared to actually hire proper interpreters. Instead, the live sound stream would be sufficiently diminished to make the actual words coming out in Spanish, Italian, German, French, Portuguese, etc, practically indecipherable, overlaid with a bright young voice sounding as if it was translating.

One small problem. Football players have a habit of exchanging jerseys after completion of important matches. Hygienic considerations notwithstanding, a fair number of players would put the opponent’s jersey on when exiting the pitch – I suppose they want to keep their hands free for whatever reasons. So, an Uruguayan player puts on a jersey he obtained from his Italian opponent before coming on for his interview. Italy won 2-0. The behind-the-screen “interpreter” works off the sight of an Italian jersey and proceeds to talk about “elation”, “hard-won battles”, “scoring when we needed to”, “giving credit to the tough Uruguayan team”, etc… But anyone who’s just seen the game knows that the player in front of the camera is actually Uruguayan, and he is probably talking about “disappointment”, “missed chances”, “mistakes in defense”, “bad refereeing decisions”, “giving credit to the deserving Italians”… It was such a blatant attempt to deceive the viewers, exposed in such a simple but spectacular fashion. Every time I see an attempt at broadcast sophistication where incompetence is brightly shining through, I think back to that.

Just as with the Olympics, I have little choice in the matter. I want to watch – I’ll have to do my best to tolerate.