Should we spend on football matches or tackling debts?

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DEVASTATING figures were revealed, sending jitters down the spines of investors.

A RM1 trillion national debt figure was quoted by the new Pakatan Harapan government, as Cabinet ministers agreed to a 10 per cent pay cut to curb government spending. A crowdfunding campaign was also initiated to help reduce the country’s federal government debt.

And then yesterday happened.

Two topics hogged the limelight – the airing of the World Cup and English Premier League on RTM.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh DeoGobind Singh Deo, in supporting RTM’s bid to buy the 2018 World Cup broadcast rights, hopes for a “favourable decision” when the Cabinet meets tomorrow.

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Gobind hopes for a “favourable decision” when the Cabinet meets tomorrow.

The World Cup kicks off on June 14 but discussions between the broadcast rights holder M-League Marketing Sdn Bhd and RTM started some two years ago, said Datuk Ahmad Zaharul Annuar.

Ahmad Zaharul, the chief executive officer of Sports Media and Distributors Sdn Bhd – the company anchoring M-League Marketing – confirmed even the Treasury was “satisfied” with the proposed figure and was awaiting Cabinet approval.

Foul! had on March 28 reported RTM was offered 42 live and delayed matches including the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia, selected matches in the knockout stages and the final for a “sum close to RM31 million”. RTM screened 35 matches during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

“The paperwork was sorted out some two weeks ago,” said Ahmad Zaharul.

“As we are in the midst of negotiations, I can’t reveal the exact figure but what you have (some RM31 million) is pretty close.”

Ahmad Zaharul said the company is open for negotiations should the government decide to review the amount it intends to spend.

Gobind, had during a press conference at Wisma Bernama, justified the deal, saying: “This is one of the ways in which we can promote RTM.

“We need to increase viewership and this being an international event, it is important that is it aired live by RTM.”

RTM has been the main broadcaster (free-to-air) in the country for the biggest football competition in the world since the 1974 World Cup in West Germany – missing only the 1982 edition due to lack of funds.

However, on June 14, 1982, The Malay Mail reader Peter Teo, who went with the pseudonym ‘Soccer Fanatic’ suggested to the paper’s now defunct Hotline team that football fans would not mind paying RM1 each to help pay for the telecasts.

In just days, the idea took the nation by storm and the People’s Live Telecast Fund was launched on June 19. Following generous donations, RTM was able to air the live telecasts of four World Cup matches and had extra funds to air the live telecast of the FIFA World All-Star charity match on Aug 7.

On May 23, it was reported Vietnam’s national broadcaster Vietnam Television (VTV) is expected to pay “approximately US$8 million” (RM31.84 million) for the broadcasting rights for all 64 World Cup matches.

There are two types of broadcasting rights for the World Cup – pay TV and free-to-air.

Astro is the official broadcaster in Malaysia with pay TV rights to broadcast all 64 matches on television or mobile devices via the Astro GO app. Selected matches will be telecast free on Astro Arena through NJOI Now and Astro GO apps.

Pakatan Harapan Youth chief Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, meanwhile, set tongues wagging after suggesting RTM should have a sublicence agreement with Astro to air English Premier League matches weekly.

Pakatan Harapan’s youth wing, had during its inaugural convention on Jan 6, pledged the free broadcast of the EPL and La Liga on RTM should it win the general election.

On May 9, Pakatan Harapan won and yesterday Nik Nazmi told The Malaysian Insight:

Sub-licensing would mean RTM forking out money for the matches.

Daily Mail had in 2015 reported, Singtel spent £190.1 million to secure the 2016/17 to 2018/19 broadcast deal. There are 380 matches per season.

Unless monetised, the large sum spent will not go down well with many.

So should a government, already tackling massive debts, dribble its way to the hearts of the people by airing World Cup and English Premier League matches?

Why can’t we invest in the M-League instead?

On any given day, such announcements should be celebrated.

But our nation’s expenditure needs some correction – even if this means saying no to the beautiful game.

Four months ago, the ‘EPL on RTM pledge’ was given a red card. Given the current economic situation, shouldn’t the red card stay?