July 2006

Arts & Letters

‘FIFA World Cup’ SBS Television

By Patrick Allington

Never mind three goals in eight minutes and, especially, Tim Cahill’s exquisite second effort. Never mind the controversial Japanese–Egyptian goal, or the sight of “our genius Guus” shoving officials on the sidelines. The undisputed highlight of SBS’s coverage of Australia’s 3–1 win against Japan was Kim Beazley using an extraordinary number of words to say “good luck”. That’s world-class prolix.

Actually, Kim was probably doing SBS a favour. In keeping with their commitment to saturation coverage of the World Cup, SBS’s reporters and analysts keep talking, regardless of whether there is anything worth saying. The collective earnest-cheerleader tone and obligatory banter is a yawn, and has even infected news bulletins. Best of all was the footage of the Australian team watching the opening ceremony on television, with the commentators pondering how much inspiration the players might gain from the moment.

Fortunately, the comprehensive coverage also includes some live football. For all SBS’s overblown, self-serving rhetoric about the looming round-ball revolution in Australia, it is difficult to believe that another free-to-air station would have committed to broadcasting all the matches in full.

The coverage of the games is excellent, and SBS has been well served by the quality of the play. The Australia–Japan match hardly pulsated for the first 80 minutes, but Simon Hill’s commentary was inoffensive and mostly insightful. It was to his credit that he minimised hyperbole and avoided talking over the play. Hill’s task was complex: the audience consisted of aficionados and interested novices. He did a fair job of catering to this mixed constituency. Still, he might have explained why footballers collapse in agony at the slightest contact and then miraculously recover, in the finest tradition of World Championship Wrestling. It may be the tactical norm, but for viewers it’s a blight.

The expert analysis before and after games is less balanced, veering between barracking, technicalities that assume a highly knowledgeable audience, and an unhealthy pre-occupation with the workings of coach Hiddink’s mind. But overall, SBS has been solid and its parochialism far less extreme than, for example, Nine displayed in its coverage of the Commonwealth Games.

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