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Monday, 3 June, 2002, 21:16 GMT 22:16 UK
Belarus suffers World Cup blackout
Protest at lack of World Cup coverage
"Where is our football?" Belarusian fans ask

As millions of people around the world are glued to their TV screens, watching the excitement unfold on the football pitches of Japan and South Korea, Belarus has become a World Cup-free zone.

Much to the annoyance of football fans in the former Soviet Republic, Belarus is one of the few countries that had not purchased the rights to broadcast World Cup matches from the German media group Kirch.

Despite this, the state-run media vowed it would televise the most important games.


Why the TV management kept dragging its feet till the last moment is a mystery

Belarusian sports commentator

But the Russian satellite TV station, NTV, has now threatened court action against the Belarusian National Broadcasting Company for allegedly pirating its broadcast of the opening World Cup football game.

On the opening day of the tournament, Russian channels which can be received in Belarus announced that they were withdrawing broadcasts of the matches.

And the country 's football fans are now left without any World Cup coverage.

Belarusian TV sports commentator Alyaksandr Putsila blamed the "ignorance" of the Belarusian TV company for the problem.

"Why the TV management kept dragging its feet till the last moment is a mystery," he told Radio Liberty.

Opposition

The issue has also been seized on by the country's opposition parties.

The Belarusian Social Democratic Party has announced it will call on the country's leadership to demand "punishment for individuals responsible for the violation of the interests of hundreds of thousands of Belarusian football fans".


All the talk of sincere brotherly love between Russia and Belarus just simply won't do the trick

Belorusskaya Gazeta

Another opposition party, BPF-Revival, accused the authorities of failing to organise the broadcasts.

"Had the government of the day understood that Belarus is an independent country and not a Russian territory, it would not have deprived millions of Belarusians of one of the few pleasures available," party leader Vintsuk Vyachorka said.

The opposition weekly Belorusskaya Gazeta uses the incident to bring up the debate of relations with Russia.

Belarus gained independence in 1991, following the fall of the Soviet Union.

"Independence does have a price," the weekly says.

The paper says it is now clear that Russian TV channels are no less foreign than German or Polish ones.

And "all the talk of sincere brotherly love between Russia and Belarus just simply won't do the trick".

The weekly also says that the incident will be damaging to Belarus' image abroad.

"If it is proven that the national TV channel broadcast effectively stolen TV programmes, Belarus' reputation will suffer another painful blow, and any more talk of improving Belarus' image in the eyes of potential investors will be pointless."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.


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See also:

03 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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