Japanese fans facing Women's World Cup TV blackout

Japanese fans facing Women's World Cup TV blackout

© AFP 2022
June 16, 2023 at 7:26 AM
Japan's women's team is hugely popular at home
Japan's women's team is hugely popular at home. Photo: Damien MEYER / AFP/File
Source: AFP

Japanese football fans are facing a TV blackout for next month's Women's World Cup, with some warning failure to strike a broadcasting deal would be a "missed opportunity".

The country won the tournament in 2011 and reached the final again four years later, but its broadcasters have yet to reach an agreement to televise games before the competition kicks off in Australia and New Zealand on July 20.

TV rights for the Women's World Cup are being sold independently of the men's competition for the first time.

FIFA on Wednesday announced that it had struck a deal with the European Broadcasting Union to televise games, avoiding a controversial blackout in the "Big Five" European nations.

That leaves Japan as one of the last major countries to reach an agreement, and fans are worried that it will damage women's football's standing at home.

Mariko Takata, 41, plans to travel to New Zealand to watch Japan's opener against Zambia on July 22 before returning home.

But she has no idea where she will watch the rest of the team's games.

"Women's football isn't usually as popular as men's football and there is a chance it will be a really big deal if they go far in the tournament," she told AFP on Friday.

"It's also a good chance for people to support the team and create some memories even if they don't win, so it would be a missed opportunity for women's football."

The national women's team -- nicknamed "Nadeshiko" after a pink flower that symbolises femininity in Japan -- became hugely popular at home after they beat the United States on penalties to win the 2011 title.

The players became overnight stars and the team went on to reach the final of the 2012 Olympics and 2015 World Cup.

Japan Football Association chief Kozo Tashima said this week he was "very worried" that fans would not be able to watch them in action next month.

"I hope this can be resolved before the tournament so that people all over the country can support the team," he said as coach Futoshi Ikeda named his World Cup squad on Tuesday.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has been critical of broadcasters, who he said offered "100 times less" to screen the Women's World Cup compared to the men's tournament.

Tashima said the JFA had not been involved in negotiations but he understood there was still "a big gap" between parties.

He said fans in Japan would be able to watch games for free on the world governing body's FIFA Plus website, but would not be able to listen to Japanese commentary.

"I'm not sure if people who didn't previously have any interest would watch it on FIFA Plus," he said. "It's important that games are shown on terrestrial TV."

Fan Takata expressed hope that a deal would be struck in time.

"For better or for worse, when something is decided somewhere else, there is pressure for Japan to decide as well," she said.

"European countries reached an agreement the other day so my hope is that it will also be decided here soon."

© AFP 2022 photo
© AFP 2022