World Cup fatigue wears thin

Opinion by Liam Lenten

The 2014 World Cup is now a fortnight old, and the fatigue factor of having to rise repeatedly at an ungodly hour each night is beginning to catch up.

Having been in Europe for the 2006 and 2010 installments, for me it's a shocking reminder about life in the antipodes. Should you identify with this conundrum, be assured that the viewing workload lightens considerably from this Friday, as three-quarters of the 64 total games have now been played in a mere 15 days, with the final 16 to come over equal time.

Following the final, I look forward to catching up with sleep and work not to mention re-acquainting myself with family and friends, and having my first look at the AFL and NRL ladders in just over a month.

Many devotees of the round-ball game are familiar with this soccer watching problem at club level on an annual basis - especially May - when the respective finals of the Europa League, English FA Cup and UEFA Champions League prompt fans to reset the bedside alarm. However, the quadrennial festival of the world's finest national teams, the world cup, takes this graveyard shift lounge-room pilgrimage to a whole different level.

For this world cup has led me to this conclusion: if there's anything worse for us football fans in Australia than a world cup in Europe, it's a world cup in the Americas, scheduled to suit European TV.

Obviously, as football's largest television market Europe calls the shots, just as many events at the summer (and winter) Olympic Games are determined to suit North America.

To illustrate, the swim meet of Beijing 2008 had its finals scheduled in the morning, local time, followed by the heats in the evening, when its usually the contrary.

While the local kick-off times in Brazil may look sensible superficially, indeed they are not As a regular visitor to the in-laws in Argentina, South Americans proudly claim to be creatures of the night preferring later start times. Of Brazil's 26 home world cup qualifiers (geared to local TV) since 2000,16 started later than 9.30pm local time (the latest an astonishing 10.10pm), with only eight starting before 8.40pm.

This schedule corresponds to the last match of the day being beamed in at a civilised 10am to 11am start in the eastern states (less two hours for Perth).

However, only one match in this entire tournament was scheduled later than 7pm, to maximise the value of FIFA's broadcast rights contract when bargaining with European networks (Dutch coach Louis van Gaal has been critical of other scheduling aspects).

To make matters worse, the most appealing group stage matches involving the prestigious European powerhouses are set down as the first match of the day at the horrible hour of 2am AEST.

Fortunately, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will include events going into the early afternoon, our time; nevertheless, football is a different story.

If only every world cup was like the 2002 edition; co-hosted by the similarly time-zoned Japan and South Korea. Despite lack of football pedigree (like previous hosts the United States, Japan and South Africa, not to mention Qatar), it's inevitable that China will host a world cup some time in the next couple of decades, as FIFA develops one of the sport's few remaining relatively untapped markets. That will be good for Australian viewers. However, if we peer far further into the future and extrapolate on current growth trends, the global balance of media economic power may be profoundly unrecognisable to today.

Is it possible that despite perhaps never dominating the beautiful game on the pitch, China - coupled with its south-east Asian neighbours through sheer population numbers and economic growth (and Europe's long-term decline in both), one day carries more weight than other blocs in the halls of FIFA and the IOC (albeit perhaps not in our lifetime)?

If so, subsequent generations of Australian sports fans could say goodbye forever to sleepless world cups; and that's why, following Australia's elimination, I'll be cheering passionately for the Chinese economy for the remaining duration of the 2014 World Cup.

If there's anything worse for us football fans in Australia than a World Cup in Europe, it's a World Cup in the Americas.

Dr Liam Lenten is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law.

This article was first published in The Financial Review.

Image credit: Paulisson Miura