DOHA: Responding to a flurry of complaints from irate viewers, al-Jazeera Sport has disciplined commentator Shabaan Haki for what it has described as “an unacceptable and potentially costly” gap in commentary during the Champions League semi-final between Barcelona and Chelsea.
Midway through the second half, with a nail-biting game standing at 2-1 to Barcelona, viewers were stunned when al-Jazeera’s star broadcaster failed to say anything for a massive 3.7 seconds – the longest break in Arabic sports commentary since Dubai Sports accidentally cut to an Israeli gymnast at the 2008 Olympics.
The al-Jazeera switchboard was soon flooded with angry viewers, many arguing that they don’t pay $300 a year subscriptions to listen to “dead air”. Haki has since apologised for any distress caused by the interruption, claiming that he was simply clearing his throat off-mic. “Anyway, Didier Drogba was being treated after another nasty fall,” he said. “And I’d already told everyone what he’d had for breakfast that morning.”
With the climactic end to the British Premier League just around the corner, and with crucial advertising revenue on the line, al-Jazeera were forced to issue a stark warning to Haki over future performances. “Our viewers expect to be bombarded with sound for the full duration of the game,” said a spokesman. “Our audience has to believe someone is about to score the winning goal every single second. Failing that, commentators must have access to a string of utterly meaningless information about where the goalkeeper’s kids go to school.”
“We are taught from day one to pretend we’re talking to an audience of blind people with extremely limited attention spans,” confirms former commentator, Mustafa Brayk, who was forced to retire when, during a Scottish Premier League game in 2008, he ran out of things to say about Hibernian’s Liam Miller with five minutes still remaining. “Unfortunately for me, a sheet of facts about him fell between my legs just as he was about to take a throw-in. I can have no complaints. That was unprofessional.”
The action was a particular blow to Haki’s reputation, who was universally praised around the Arab World for cramming 38,000 words into a single 90 minutes game between Ahli and Hilal in the Saudi league last year.