Hong Kong closes loophole on free World Cup on TV

Fans in football-crazed Hong Kong were dealt another blow in

their campaign for free World Cup coverage after local regulators

moved to close a loophole that allowed locals to watch games on

mainland Chinese television.

Hong Kong’s World Cup coverage is limited to a cable operator,

but apartment buildings with satellite antennae can receive signals

carrying China’s CCTV, allowing locals to access the state

broadcaster’s coverage of the tournament for free.

The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, but

continues to maintain a separate government from the mainland and a

separate telecommunications regime.

Hong Kong’s Office of the Telecommunications Authority issued a

statement last week asking local buildings with satellite antenna

to block out CCTV’s World Cup coverage, warning that violators

“may attract civil liability” for copyright infringement.

Opposition lawmaker Albert Chan urged Hong Kong regulators to

show leniency in enforcing a technicality.

“Hong Kong always puts economic interests first. It’s depriving

the right of many citizens to watch the World Cup. We are annoyed

and extremely dissatisfied,” he told The Associated Press in a

phone interview Monday.

Chan said many of his constituents have complained about the

lack of free World Cup coverage.

While the Hong Kong rights holder, Cable TV, usually provides

footage of key World Cup matches to Hong Kong’s two free-to-air

broadcasters, this year the three parties were locked in bitter

negotiations that ended with the cable operator only offering the

matches to free digital channels, excluding poorer neighborhoods

without digital coverage.

Chan said he himself was a football fan and doesn’t have Cable

TV, so he watches matches at the homes of friends who do.

Local shopping malls have also been airing matches on big-screen

television sets.

CCTV said it only has a mandate to offer coverage to mainland

Chinese viewers and had no choice but to abide by the terms of its

contract with football’s governing body, FIFA.

“Those are the terms of the agreement we signed. Unfortunately,

we can’t satisfy the viewers in Hong Kong,” a duty officer at

CCTV’s World Cup programming department said Monday. As common with

mainland officials, she declined to give her name.

Hong Kong, a densely populated city of 7 million people,

inherited its love of football from its British colonial rulers.

Locals are often found testing their own skills in

smaller-than-regulation cement pitches sandwiched between

skyscrapers and staying up late for European club matches – a trend

boosted every four years by the World Cup.

With the World Cup now in full swing, so are Hong Kong’s illegal

gambling syndicates. Hong Kong police said Sunday they smashed one

such ring, seizing more than 66 million Hong Kong dollars ($8.5

million) in betting slips and arresting 25 people.