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You're reading: Expats search for home-country Olympics

NEW YORK — From the Irish pubs of Stockholm to bustling Koreatown in Los Angeles, expat Olympic fans around the world are following — or trying to follow — their favorite back-home athletes, an often lonely and difficult pursuit in our otherwise connected world.

At Mike’s Place, a popular
hangout in downtown Jerusalem where the American, British and Canadian
flags fly alongside that of Israel, Beto Capon took in women’s swimming.
The 25-year-old call center worker from Mexico City who’s been living
in Israel for four years still roots for Mexico when the Olympics roll
around.

“Watching the Olympics from here is weird for me,” said Capon

“Here I don’t have fans to share the experience with,” he said.

Steve McCready, 52, was jollier at Dubliner’s in central Stockholm for the boxing match between Ireland and Germany.

Fifteen
years in Sweden, the construction worker is soaking up six to seven
hours a day of the London Games thanks to the pub’s satellite TV and the
company of fellow Irishmen. Irish badminton? He was watching.

“Of
course you want to follow your home country. If Ireland is competing
you want to see them, especially if they do well,” McCready said
Thursday.

But he’s not bothered by the Olympic-viewing eccentricities of his adopted Sweden.

“You
have to accept that in any country you’re living in, they will
concentrate on their own teams and favorite sports,” he said. “Take
handball, for example. The Swedes love it, so there’s going to be a lot
of that.”

Asa Ibrahim, a spokeswoman for the municipality of
Sodertalje, said in her area’s large Iraqi and Somali immigrant
neighborhoods people prefer to watch Olympic events at home — with
friends.

“There are places here where just about every balcony has
one or two satellite dishes. They do that to get their home country’s
channels, but then they also invite each other over to watch things
together,” Ibrahim said. “People here prefer to go to each other’s
houses.”

Aside from pubs and satellite dishes, some sports fans
far from their homelands are resorting to video online, thanks to
healthy bandwidth and programs like the Expat Shield, which helps users
hide their IP addresses to bypass restrictions on who has legal
permission to show the games — and where.

One place where viewers
in the U.S. can follow more international teams is on Telemundo. The
Spanish-language network owned by NBCUniversal has exclusive TV rights
in the U.S. to Olympic coverage in Spanish.

“We are only showing
trials that are relevant to Hispanics in the U.S., and that doesn’t just
mean U.S. Hispanics, but to the broader Hispanic community,” said
Telemundo spokesman Camilo Pino.

That has meant following athletes
ranging from Cuban-American gymnast Daniel Leyva of Miami to Argentine
tennis player Juan Martin Del Potro, and Mexican synchronized divers German Sanchez and Ivan Garcia, who took home a silver, the country’s first medal in the sport.

At
the It’s Boba Time cafe in Los Angeles, immigrants and university
students sucked tapioca balls and milk tea through fat straws Wednesday,
some looking for the Olympics the old-fashioned way, thumbing through
Korean-language newspapers with color photos of judo and fencing stars
on their front pages.

Staring intently at his laptop, 49-year-old
Joon Ha of California watched the finals of sports South Korea is
competitive in — judo, fencing, shooting, archery — via downloads from
Korean television websites.

NBC’s coverage out of London hasn’t included many Korean athletes, but that doesn’t upset him.

“The
United States is a very big country, and it’s understandable that there
are so many games they compete in that having the games of this one
country on television will occupy all the programming,” he said.

That’s
a sore subject with British expats who were outraged when the BBC
blocked non-UK users from accessing Web streams of some popular radio
programs due to International Olympic Committee rights demands.

After
a deluge of complaints, the BBC announced that it had negotiated with
the IOC to allow non-UK users access to all but a few Web streams. The
reasoning: Although the shows do feature Olympic content, it isn’t
broadcast live and makes up a minority of programming.

Ironically,
if you’re in a country where the IOC didn’t sell exclusive rights to
broadcast the games, you stand a better chance of being able to watch
the events you’re interested in than if you’re in countries like France,
Japan or Mexico where it did. That’s because the IOC is providing its
own free YouTube live stream of the games in 64 nations across Asia and
Africa.

In Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Zambia, Zimbabwe and
elsewhere, fans can watch 10 live streams as well as highlights,
provided they can access highspeed Internet.

The importance of
Internet and mobile viewing hasn’t been lost on the IOC. It said in a
statement that it expects the number of hours broadcast online and on
mobile platforms globally to exceed television coverage for the first
time during the London Games.

Fans of American sports such as
baseball and basketball have long found ways to get around territory
restrictions by using so-called proxy computers in the U.S., or signing
up to U.S.-based virtual private networks, or VPNs. Such networks make
computers appear to be in the United States, for a charge of about $10
per month.

Colin Manning, an Irishman who has lived in Germany for
more than a decade, remains an avid fan of Olympic sports back home. He
has turned to the gray area of VPNs to access the Irish broadcaster RTE
and fumes about the restrictions as “completely mad in the digital
age.”

“They are still operating in this broadcaster mode where the
signal is completely controllable,” said the 51-year-old computer
scientist as he sat in a Berlin cafe. “There is no concept of saying
‘Colin Manning is in Berlin and he wants to buy this package from us.
Let’s sell it to him.'”

At the Chinatown branch of the San
Francisco Public Library, 22-year-old Kevin Liao is all about broadband
for the Olympics. Flipping through a Chinese comic book, the Chinese
emigre of two years had no complaints about the U.S.-centric coverage
during NBC’s prime time.

“NBC is on the TV. I don’t like watching
TV,” he said. “On the Chinese sites, I can get my full coverage of how
Chinese teams are doing but still get a little bit of how American teams
are doing.”

Miao Liu, a 21-year-old sophomore at American
University in Washington, D.C., and a native of Shenzhen, China, said
she gave up on NBC’s coverage because of the decision to broadcast the
opening ceremonies on tape delay. She, too, has been watching the
Olympics online, streaming coverage from China’s CCTV network, and she’s
been pleased with it.

“They show the entire competition, but obviously they will talk more about our athletes,” Liu said.

NBC’s
coverage could benefit from a more international approach, she said.
“It seems a little weird since America is an immigrant country and so
diverse.”

While the commentary on NBC is U.S.-focused, customers
at The Australian, a sports bar with kangaroo steaks on the menu in
Manhattan’s Garment District, can watch Australian commercial
television.

That’s just what four 20-something vacationing friends
from Down Under were looking for. They sipped drinks and munched on
lunch Thursday, waiting for Australian swimmer Mitch Larkin to compete while the rest of America was honed in on American Ryan Lochte.

“A lot of bars claimed they were showing everything, but it was just NBC,” said Ian Anderson, a 27-year-old from Perth.

Tasari
Wossen, a 73-year-old native of Ethiopia who lives in Washington, said
he was dismayed by NBC’s focus on American athletes — and not optimistic
that he would get an opportunity to see his countrymen compete in
distance-running events.

“For a country that says it’s about
freedom of speech and balanced coverage to completely ignore the rest of
the world goes against the Olympic spirit for me,” said Wossen, a
freelance journalist. “I don’t think it benefits the American public.
It’s very narrow-minded.”

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