Friday, December 18, 2009

Will Singapore dare to deny its people their opium?

Although religion was once, in the words of Karl Marx, "the opium of the people", it has been displaced in most developed nations by football.

That's particularly true in Singapore, where thousands of people gather in coffee shops every weekend to watch live coverage of the English Premier League and other top European leagues.

If they weren't glued to the screen, these people would probably be stealing, raping or even, god forbid, talking about politics or social issues.

That's why, in a likely election year, it seems dangerous indeed for Singapore not to offer the World Cup matches on any of its free-to-air or pay-TV channels, as is currently the case. More than 200 nations have already secured TV deals with FIFA, leaving Singaporeans among a tiny minority of excluded global football fans.

Having effectively shafted customers by bidding-up the cost of showing Premier League matches, Singapore's two government-controlled pay-TV providers - StarHub and SingTel - decided to put in a joint bid to show the World Cup games. But their offer was rejected by FIFA.

Meanwhile, Mediacorp, the free-to-air broadcaster wholly owned by Singapore's sovereign wealth fund Temasek, has inidcated that it is unlikely to stump up the necessary cash to buy the World Cup rights.

Given that the government has a considerable sway over all three companies (Temasek owns 100% of Mediacorp, 57% of StarHub and 54% of SingTel) , I find it hard to believe that Singapore's rulers will dare to face an electorate deprived of the right to watch the World Cup

The only explanation I can think of for this bizarre situation is that it must be the government's latest cunning ploy to ensure that its majority is not eroded further in the next election.

If the World Cup is not available in the Lion City, tens of thousands of people will be forced to flee over the causeway to Malaysia to obtain their football fix. That would give the ruling People's Action Party the perfect opportunity to hold a snap election in the knowledge that the already-weak opposition will be deprived of all those potential voters who are also football fans


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