Israeli television is to broadcast the 2018 FIFA World Cup taking place in Russia with Arabic commentary for the first time, offering free coverage of world soccer’s most prestigious competition to the Jewish state’s Arabic-speaking neighbors.
The Foreign Ministry’s Arabic-language Facebook page announced last week that the Israel Broadcasting Corporation will broadcast the games via satellite in Arabic for free, thereby breaking a Qatari monopoly on World Cup coverage in Arabic that has proved unaffordable for many in the Middle East.
According to to the online newspaper Egypt Independent, IBC (Kan) purchased the broadcasting rights for approximately $7.8m. and will rival Qatar’s beIN Sports television channel’s coverage of the World Cup in countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
With Qatar’s beIN Sports demanding that fans pay $45 per household to watch the World Cup in Arabic, beyond the budget of many families, millions of Middle East soccer fans are likely to turn to Israeli coverage as a free alternative.
The World Cup, due to kick off on June 14 in Moscow, will feature Egypt for only the third time – its first appearance in nearly three decades.
Although one Egyptian television commentator described the Israeli move as a welcome “slap in the face for Qatar” over the weekend, underlining the ongoing diplomatic crisis between the two Arab countries, others were less impressed.
Ahmed Mussa, an Egyptian television anchor, warned viewers of the danger that Israel could transmit messages to the Arab world through its broadcasts.
“There’s no difference – Israel and Qatar are both enemies for me,” said Mussa.
Israel qualified for the World Cup finals on only one occasion, in 1970. It advanced through the first two qualifying rounds because of a bye and its opponent North Korea’s disqualification, and then won the final qualifying round by beating Australia. But it came in last in its four-team Group 2, drawing two games and losing one. That was before Israel was expelled from the Asian Football Confederation in 1974, and forced to compete in the tougher European qualifying area.