x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A no lose situation for fans

World Cup viewers in North Korea will only see edited highlights of games in which their team played well.

The so-called World Cup Fever sweeps nations every four years.
The so-called World Cup Fever sweeps nations every four years.

Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, is reportedly planning a unique strategy for televising next year's World Cup. The Dear Leader has allegedly decreed that no live matches will be shown on state TV - only highlights edited in North Korea's favour. If they lose a match, the result will simply be ignored.

What a fantastic idea. I always assumed the whole "Kim Jong-il is a genius" line was propaganda, but maybe it is true after all. I may now have to start believing the one about him scoring at least five holes-in-one per round of golf, which makes him better than Tiger Woods. Plus, with only three known mistresses, he may well be more wholesome too. The North Korean TV strategy works brilliantly on two levels: it tackles both the official hype and the public hysteria surrounding any World Cup.

Let's start with the hype. The World Cup has become hideously over hyped. What started out as a bit of international sporting fun, and the chance for Jules Rimet and his Fifa cronies to take a holiday in Uruguay, has become an orgy of commercially-driven, state-sponsored pomposity. This was typified by Friday's draw in Cape Town - a glitzy affair which bore all the hallmarks of a tournament which takes itself far too seriously. It had the pointless cameo appearance from a Hollywood film star, namely Charlize Theron, a woman so proud to be South African that she became a US citizen in 2007.

It had banal commentary from the likes of Tatum Keshwar, a local beauty show contestant, who mused: "The future for South Africa is so bright it burns my eyes." Really, Tatum? Are you sure that isn't just from the police tear-gassing poor people in a nearby shanty town? And, inevitably, there were some words of wisdom from Nelson Mandela, who seemed to suggest that hosting the World Cup was the African people's "reward" after their "long struggle for freedom". That must come as great news for Third World nations: we'll pillage your resources for several centuries, but you do get to host a football tournament at the end of it.

The World Cup has such grandiose ideas about itself only because we indulge it with blanket media coverage. Limiting TV coverage to a 20-minute highlight package, to be slotted in between the weather forecast and a soap opera, could provide a much- needed reality check. Secondly, the public hysteria. We are all familiar with so-called World Cup Fever, which sweeps nations every four years. Symptoms include cramming yourself into bars to shout at a big screen for 90 minutes and then celebrating wildly in victory or weeping like babies at defeat.

Most people who suffer World Cup Fever, however, are not regular football fans. Instead, they are part of that amiable but dim majority who will buy into the aforementioned hype and get excited about whatever bright bauble the media dangles before them. Whether it is fashion trends or celebrity gossip these people are well used to consuming manipulated information in some form or other. So, what the heck, show them a few doctored images and make them think their nation won the World Cup. It will save a lot of tears before bedtime, and they will not remember the result for long enough to realise they have been duped. Will Batchelor is a writer, broadcaster and self-confessed cynical sports fan sports@thenational.ae