Kirch, b’casters in row over soccer

France's sports minister Buffet expected to respond to stalemate

PARIS — Nine months away from the soccer World Cup, relations are becoming strained between Germany’s Kirch group, which is selling the TV rights, and wary European broadcasters who don’t want to fork out astronomical sums.

Broadcasters in the U.K., Italy and France point out that it will be 6 a.m. in Europe — hardly peak viewing time — when many of the matches in host countries Japan and Korea kick off.

But Kirch is said to have asked French broadcasters for 1 billion francs ($139.54 million) for the rights to the monthlong event.

Fearful that, at this rate, the World Cup may never reach the nation’s TV screens, France’s sports minister Marie-George Buffet is said to be preparing a missive to soccer’s world body, FIFA, expressing her “deepest concerns” over the stalemate.

Meanwhile, French economic newspaper La Tribune weighed in to the controversy Wednesday, accusing the Kirch Group of “blackmail.”

The paper quoted an adamant Charles Bietry, head of sport at pubcaster France Television, as saying “neither we nor TF1 are ready to give in.”

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