All in the (Soccer) Game

Like it or not, the coming week will feature plenty of free viewing of the UEFA championship.

France's forward Antoine Griezmann (back) is fouled by Switzerland's midfielder Valon Behrami during the Euro 2016 group A football match between Switzerland and France, June 19, 2016.
Frank Fife, AFP

Truth be told, I’m not much of a sports fan. Not that there’s anything wrong with this – being excited by the experience of following what happens on the court, field, course or track (or trek), while munching potato crisps on the couch facing the TV set (hence the sobriquet “couch potato”). It’s just that I think there are more productive (or less inane) ways of wasting my time. But I do make it a point of keeping score, as it were, and being constantly aware and updated as to who’s been playing against whom, and in what sort of sport. I do want to be able to follow what my fellowmen and some women are talking about whenever there is a tournament of WWI (world-wide interest) going on. Which is most of the (TV watching) time.

Take next week, for instance: Tomorrow, starting at 16.00, you can watch the 37th game of the UEFA Euro football (that is, soccer, if you speak American) championship, on Channel 1 (broadcasting its swan song, as it is due to close down in September and reopen, refurbished, come October). That will take about two and a half hours of your time, given the preliminaries, the running commentary, the game itself (2 x 45 minutes), half time and overtime and recap, and it is free to all (or for all). By 19.00, possibly with some spare time for the loo and a swift meal (i.e. fast-food), you will be ripe and ready for game 38, on Sports 1. Here is where your free viewing pleasure ends: Sports 1 is accessible only if you are a subscriber to the services of a TV provider that carries the sports bundle of channels, and you have paid for the right to follow all kinds of sports on screen. But you can stay tuned to the same channel, as at 22.00 they will be broadcasting the 40th game, which will last you till about 01.00. Then you can take a nap, and at about 04.00 you can switch on again to follow American sports of all kinds (the NBA basketball series ended last Sunday).

On Monday, you can divide your viewing time between Sports 1 (for subscribers) and Channel 2, free for all. You will be able to watch some of the quarter-finals on Channel 10 (on June 30 or July 1); the semi-finals will be broadcast on Channel 10, and Channel 2 has the final, 51st game of the tournament, on July 10. The powers that be have decided to split the competitions between subscribers’ channels (Sports 1, 21 games), and the public broadcasting channels (Channel 2 got 13 games, final included; Channel 10 got 10, opening game included; and Channel 1 only seven). So more than half is being offered for free, as if it were the Israeli TV viewers’ inalienable right to get a fix of European soccer for free, whether they like it or not. And don’t tell me I can switch to other channels while the young men chasing a ball on a green field overtake the screen. No programmer in his right mind schedules anything worth watching when another TV channel is carrying the ball to the goal.

Where it all began

Here one should give credit where it’s due: Live sports broadcasts are the ultimate in TV, as it were, since it was there – on the playing field – that the live TV broadcast originated. (Read on to find out when and where.) “Television” means, basically, carrying visual information (moving pictures) over a distance. The span of visual information thus transmitted runs the gamut from a bit of visual data that is prepackaged, contrived and concocted by writers, actors and editors (be it a TV movie, series or documentary), and a live broadcast of a series of unfolding events, with reporters and cameramen chasing these events, trying to form a story out of bits of breaking news.

The live sports broadcast is somewhere in the middle. It is, on the one hand, a structured, pre-planned game played according to strict rules, with a referee on the field, a controlled event that has to play itself out. At the same time it is a work in progress that can go this way or that, and end with a victory, defeat or draw. You follow it as if it were the most important thing in a world that is – in real life, not on the playing fields – falling apart.

Ah, what do I care? Let it fall apart, but only after the game I’ve been watching ends, and the muscular young lad takes off his shirt (the sports equivalent of the fat lady singing). Especially when Israel is not taking part in the tournament, so I don’t really care who wins.

In the process I learn a lot of unnecessary information about the private lives of some players; the sportscasters have to prattle about something while the ball moves here and there with nothing happening either way. For instance, I know there are two Albanian brothers, both football players, one of whom plays for Albania, while the other plays for Switzerland. I know that Iceland, with its 330,000 citizens, has more than 20,000 young men and women registered as football players. That will serve me very well in any upcoming game of Trivial Pursuit.

Last but not least, one has to acknowledge that a sports event was the first time TV served as a global village, when many viewers all over the world were glued to TV sets to follow the first ever world-wide live broadcast. That was 80 years ago, at the 1936 Olympics, carried over the airwaves from Berlin.