Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Why can't I watch the game?? (Where in the world am I? [36])

TV coverage of sport out here on the local channels is not very foreigner-friendly. Well, it's probably not very local-friendly either. It's just not very good, in fact.

The scheduling is incredibly rigid. For example, if you're trying to enjoy a semi-final match in the US Open Tennis, you can guarantee that the programme will change to a crappy motorsport magazine show just as the third set tie-break starts.

The scheduling is incredibly nationalistic. Major European football games are always likely to get bumped if there's a provincial ping-pong or volleyball tournament going on somewhere.

The scheduling is incredibly arbitrary and inconsistent. Just because the English Premier Football League is now acknowledged as the strongest in the world, and just because its games have been shown live on Saturday nights for the last few years here..... doesn't mean that we won't suddenly subscribe to the lumpen German Bundesliga instead. Just because we showed an English game at 1am last Monday doesn't mean that we won't go for some f***ing Italian Serie B match this week. Just because we showed all the Champions League quarter-finals live, doesn't mean that we will show the semi-finals or the final live. You never know. And I really don't think being able to read the TV schedules would be any help (although, obviously I can't).

When you can find an event you want to watch, the presentation is often hugely irritating - especially for football games. They frequently omit to display the current score (or the match clock) from live games (or obscure it with their channel ident). However, they will almost invariably display the final score during recorded highlights - which rather spoils the fun! Coverage always finishes the second the final whistle is blown: there are NO HIGHLIGHTS shown at the end of matches (and very limited replays during matches). Thus, it is often possible to sit through a game and not know the result (because you missed the start, dozed off for 10 minutes, went to loo when there was a big crowd roar about something...).

Roundups of action are edited together on obscure principles. I don't think I have ever seen all the goals from one match shown in the order in which they occurred. Often there are extended montages of goals, featuring random recent examples mixed in with others from months or years back. Grrrrr.

And then there's the commentary. Usually they're taking the pictures off a TV station with an English-language commentary track, but they remove that, of course (or, even more annoyingly, reduce the the volume to a level where it is just audible but no longer comprehensible). At least with something like American Football, the local commentators have some small residual functionality: because nobody else plays the game, the local language doesn't have any of its own terms for the technical vocabulary, so every few seconds you get a key word you can actually understand - "rhubarbrhubarbrhubarbquarterbackrhubarbrhubarbshotgunrhubarbrhubarbrhubarbrhubarbrunningbackrhubarbrhubarbfumblerhubarbrhubarbrhubarbturnoverrhubarbrhubarb."

No such luck with football, tennis, golf. You just get a continuous barrage of frantic gibberish (it's a tonal language: so, to Western ears, people sound terribly agitated pretty much the whole time!). In fact, what you mostly get is laughter. Giggling, chortling, guffawing. Hoots of wild derision. Schadenfreude is a national pastime here (I once had a 'mature' student - hoping to go overseas to do a Master's in Public Administration - who told me his favourite thing was, "Watching people fall down in the street. And then laughing at them." "Thank you for being so honest," I said, "but please do not mention this when interviewed by the University. In fact, please do not ever mention this again to any foreigner you meet."). If a player misses a 4' putt, overhits a lob, or misdirects a pass to an opponent - the local commentators will positively wet their pants jeering at him for a good 30 seconds. It's quite fun when you first get here; but it gets old really quickly; in fact, I find, it gets somewhat depressing.

So..... you turn the sound down, and hope you can recognise the players, keep track of the score.

Or.... you steel yourself to endure a raucous and expensive evening watching an 'illegal' Filipino satellite-feed (apparently the only way to get the best sporting events with English commentaries) in one of the expat sports bars. Sigh.

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