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Watching at Work?

Since the soccer world championships are in Asia this year, some games will air only during the work day in Germany. What will rabid sports fans do?

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A holy trinity for some: TV, football, snacks. But what to do when the big game is on during a work day?

Soon much of Germany will be caught up in soccer mania. From May 31 to June 31, Korea and Japan will be hosting the 2002 FIFA World Cup. While there are those sports fans who will be making the flight to Asia to watch the games personally, there will be many more staying here at home, following every goal closely on TV.

But due to the time difference many important games, such as some of the qualifying rounds, the quarter finals and even the semifinals, will be broadcast on weekday mornings or early afternoons.

What’s a sport fan to do? Call in sick? Following it on the Internet at work?

Neither option is popular among company heads.

Their priorities are clear: employees should show up at work and stay at their workplaces - working. A poll conducted by the business magazine WirtschaftsWoche surveyed 500 German companies and found that a full 84% of them have forbid their workers from following the games at work.

The pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG for example, which owns one of Germany’s most successful soccer clubs, is playing hardball when it comes to employees’ taking a break to watch the games.

"We work with ongoing processes that can’t be broken," said Meinolf Sprink, the sports coordinator at Bayer. "And the Internet can only be used for business purposes."

Other large firms, like Volkswagen, Ford and Dresdner Bank, are taking a similar line.

In fact, according to the WirtschaftsWoche poll, 71 percent of those firms asked believed that interest in the World Cup was weak. Asked if productivity would suffer during the games, 96 percent said they didn’t think so.

Why worry?

Perhaps bosses should worry, since an Internet poll by the job site monster.de showed that 33 percent of those who answered plan to stay home at least a few days to watch the boys kick the ball around the pitch.

Energie Cottbus: Franklin Bitencourt

In Britain the statistics look worse for bosses. A recent poll there at least 40% of the nation’s 15 million soccer fans plan to call in sick on the days England plays. That could mean a loss for British companies of almost €2 billion ($1.8 billion).

German bosses likely won’t have to endure the nightmare that Italian industry chiefs did during the legendary semifinal between Germany and Italy in 1970. Then, a majority of the workers on the night shift at Alfa Romeo in Turin called in sick. The Germans, according to some, are too industrious for that.

"Still, there’s going to be an increase in the numbers of people calling in sick," said Heinz Schüpbach, a psychology professor in Freiburg. "And putting a ban on following the games at work won’t work. People will figure out a way, or just follow it on the Internet."

Log In for the Scores

The Internet promises to play a huge role in coverage this year, thanks to the time difference. It might even beat out television, according to Alexander Wagner with Kicker Online.

"Not everybody has a television sitting on their desks," he said. But many have a computer, often with an Internet connection.

Still, searching for live coverage on the Internet will be done in vain. Yahoo, in cooperation with the FIFA football association, is offering four-minute wrap-ups of each game. But, they start only two hours after the games begin. For that, users will have to pay €22. ($20).

A Few Kind Hearts

There are some companies who are taking their soccer fans’ needs in consideration. Automaker Daimler-Chrysler, for example, has televisions in break rooms where people can watch the matches.

Bayer Leverkusen, Ze Roberto

Bosses at the software company SAP are allowing employees to watch the games if work conditions allow. "If employees don’t have any important meetings and gets the work done despite the soccer, it’s OK with us if they watch the games," said press spokesman Markus Berner.

Other companies have introduced flexible working hours. And others, like the small team at Cyrano Communication in Münster, are all just going to pack it up and head to a living room with a big screen television, according to manager Alexander Springensguth.

"We just have to make sure someone’s left behind to answer the phones," he said.

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