Japan avoids Women’s World Cup TV blackout with late deal

Japanese football fans will be able to watch the Women’s World Cup after a last-minute deal to avoid a TV blackout was announced Thursday, a week before the tournament begins.

The Japan Football Association (JFA) said that national broadcaster NHK had reached an agreement with world football governing body FIFA to televise games at the tournament, which begins in Australia and New Zealand next Thursday.

Japan won the tournament in 2011 and reached the final again four years later, but negotiations between its broadcasters and FIFA were deadlocked with kick-off fast approaching.

TV rights for the Women’s World Cup are being sold independently of the men’s competition for the first time.

Local media quoted JFA chief Kozo Tashima as saying the deal was “a big motivation for the players”.

“It will be a chance for people who don’t get much of a chance to watch women’s football to watch some top-class games and feel the beauty of the Japan team,” he said.

Japan was the last major holdout after FIFA last month announced that it had struck a deal with the European Broadcasting Union to televise games, avoiding a controversial blackout in the “Big Five” European nations.

The situation had become so desperate that the head of Japan’s domestic women’s football league floated the idea of launching a crowdfunding appeal to pay for the rights.

WE League chairwoman Haruna Takata said that with the situation now resolved, the players could head to the World Cup “in the best possible way”.

“I deeply appreciate the efforts of all concerned and I want to give our full support to the players so that they can aim for the top,” she said in a statement.

The national women’s team — nicknamed “Nadeshiko” after a pink flower that symbolises femininity in Japan — became hugely popular at home after they beat the United States on penalties to win the 2011 title.

The players became overnight stars and the team went on to reach the final of the 2012 Olympics and 2015 World Cup.

Tashima said last month that he was “very worried” that fans would not be able to watch them in action this month.

Japan have been drawn in Group C and will face Spain, Zambia and Costa Rica in the first round.

Their first game is against Zambia in Hamilton on July 22. -BSS

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