World Cup 2010: Punditry Unprofessionalism & Joke Journalism

World Cup 2010: Punditry Unprofessionalism & Joke Journalism

By on Jul 13, 2010 in International Football, Latest | 38 comments

For the TV punditry at this World Cup to be truly “remarkable” – and thereby worthy of an article – it would really have had to stink to the highest of heavens. And at this year’s event, Kevin Keegan was far from the worst of the pundits. So, here goes… It wasn’t just that the commentators and pundits were under-researched and trite; it was that some of them knew it and none of them seemed to care. During Chile’s opening match, ITV’s Clive Tyldesley admitted he didn’t know much about them, explaining that he hadn’t seen much TV coverage of the “Copa Libertadores and the like,” (a club competition, but never mind).

It was a startling admission of unprofessionalism which would be a resignation on the spot in any other form of work. Imagine the uproar if, during coverage of the recent emergency budget, the BBC’s economics editor Hugh Pym had said: “I don’t know much about taxation but that VAT’s a bit steep.” He wouldn’t be the BBC’s economics editor for the Six O’clock News. If anything, Tyldesley compounded his felony by telling us that Chile had top-scored in the South American World Cup qualifying competition and finished only a point behind Brazil. It wasn’t clear, then, on what basis he had snootily laughed off their declared semi-final ambitions, beyond lazily applying Chile’s past record to the present squad.

There was a reason, of course, why Chile’s prospects of a semi-final were slim, namely that they’d have to beat Spain and/or Brazil to get there, and Brazil beat them twice in qualifying. Had they been in the other half of the draw, they may have got as far as… Uruguay. But Tyldesley’s mind wasn’t working even to that basic level. In the not-too-distant past, there were difficulties obtaining footage of qualifying games from around the world. TV coverage and recording technology weren’t extensive enough. But they are now and those difficulties are a thing of the past.

Tyldesley works for a (nominally) major TV station. And I would be shocked if ITV’s budgetary restraints were so tight – even after Adrian Chiles’ wages – that they couldn’t obtain enough footage to give him working knowledge of all 32 finalists. “Having a go” at TV punditry is a game as old as TV punditry itself, of course. The idea of a panel of “experts” was a good one when it emerged on ITV for the Mexico finals. You had combative personalities in Derek Dougan and Malcolm Allison, tactical nous (Allison, again) and the imagination to put it together, which is something that, 40 years ago, Jimmy Hill possessed. No, really.

The format quickly got tired, though. If you think Jimmy Hill as an innovator is an unlikely concept, you’ll struggle with the fact that Jimmy Greaves was a breath of fresh air for TV punditry a mere twelve years later for the Spain finals. But Greaves was only a blip. By 1986, even he wasn’t funny any more. And when it came to expert analysis of foreign teams he was far from the only one over-reliant on national stereotypes at the expense of actually knowing anything about the actual players on screen. Peter Reid, regularly admitting in 2002 that he “didn’t know much about this lot,” was a natural regression. So I’d grown to expect David Pleat to pronounce everybody’s name wrong – to the point of self-parody. I understood when yet another commentator wondered aloud why the Spanish weren’t singing the words to their national anthem. And if Alan Hansen used “pass and move” as an entire sentence one more time, then I just passed and moved on.

But this year’s punditry, in both the studio and commentary box, went one step beyond the inadequacies of the past, almost as if pundits such as Martin Keown had defined “learning from past mistakes” as “learning past mistakes off-by-heart so as to repeat them.” For example, even my world-weary tolerance could not prepare me for Keown’s repeated, ignorant insistence that “Premiership managers will be looking at him” every time any non-Premier League player he’d never heard of (i.e. most of them) trapped a ball. It was embarrassing to hear this phrase used of Nigeria’s Victor Enyeama and Japan’s Yuji Nakazawa, players with extensive international and World Cup experience. It had to be pointed out to Keown that Nakazawa had “102 caps and is 32,” which ought to have embarrassed him into a contritional silence. Instead, Keown tried to laugh off his incompetence (“Championship managers, then”). You try that next time you **** up at work, see where it gets you.

Individual mistakes were too numerous to mention, the one example to fit into this article’s word limit being the insistence that Portugal were the only team not to concede a goal in their finals’ group. There were crass editorial misjudgements, too. It seemed as if every preview of the Netherlands was contractually obliged to refer to “total football.” But analysts continued to make the comparisons long after it was clear that they had no journalistic merit whatsoever. The desperation for an authentic African voice overrode broadcast basics when Emanuel Adebayor was hired. The desperation to maintain a light-hearted tone for the highlights programme led to a terrible misuse of Craig Johnston. Johnston had genuinely interesting and informative things to say about the Jabulani ball but had to make way for “Thatch of the Day” or some such tired “comedy” slot. And I have yet to find a satisfactory explanation for the BBC’s Brazil vs Portugal preview. Even the most cursory glance at their qualifying group table should have led to at least a suspicion that the game would be cautious. And an equally cursory glance at the team-sheets would have triggered a response if there’d been any journalistic instincts in the room.

We’ve all given up on a Brazil preview being based on 2010, rather than 1970, 1982 and Ronaldo. But Lineker and co. seemed to be suggesting that Portugal were about to match them trick-for-trick, which appeared to be based on a combination of Eusebio in 1966 and twenty minutes against a tired North Korea the previous Monday. After twenty minutes of this rubbish, Lineker’s scripted suggestion was that viewers should sue if the game wasn’t a thriller. By half-time, viewers might have felt entitled to sue someone for something. But it wouldn’t have been any of the players. The difference between this personality journalism and the real thing was apparently most evident in the contrast between Fabio Capello’s interviews with Gabby Logan on the BBC and Gabriel Clarke on ITV. The words “and with news from the England camp” were a signal for me to switch over to anything else that wasn’t a soap or tennis, so I couldn’t comment directly. But, looking back, all the interesting, or tetchy, Capello comments that I can recall had Clarke’s voice ahead of them (a rare victory for ITV, that).

One small comment summed it all up for me. Discussing Fernando Torres’s attitude and form had been an exercise in ill-informed speculation for Shearer and Co. When Jurgen Klinsmann joined the panel discussion prior, he began: “When I spoke to Torres earlier…” I just wonder what golf course the rest of them were on at the time. Tucked away in the Robbie Earle ticket touting story was his punditry salary, a cool £175,000 per annum. We can only speculate on how well or otherwise Earle was paid in comparison to others. But you can bet that Hansen et al were not on minimum wage for the duration. For that sort of money, in fact even for minimum wage, we all have a right to expect much more than we got. “I could do that for the money he’s on,” is an oft-repeated criticism of stellar-salaried players. “If you could do that for that money, you would be” was one memorable response. When it comes to TV punditry, we could ALL have done….that.

Such criticisms don’t win any prizes for originality, I know. And I wouldn’t blame you if it gets tedious reading them. But journalistic standards don’t seem to matter when it comes to TV football punditry, which is an insult to viewers. We have a right to demand much more than we get and we should never pass up the opportunity to make that demand.

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    38 Comments

  1. Sky Sports should be inspired by the inadequacies of the terrestrial networks this year and take Fanzone one step further – and offer an alternative feed of the odd match, either through the red button or on Sky Sports 4 if it’s only showing Aerobics Oz Style or other such filler, where the entire coverage, both studio analysis and commentary, is provided by ordinary members of the public, perhaps with a competition run a few weeks in advance with video clips of your commentary to be sent to (YouTube / Sky.com / someone with whom they have a tie-in).

    It can’t be worse than ITV, can it?

    (I speak, by the way, as someone with experience commentating on the European Championships in – before you get too excited – Ultimate ‘Frisbee’. Not a massive occasion all told, the crowds were below Conference levels even for the finals day, but despite having never watched the sport until just before I arrived at the tournament, I still didn’t make any mistakes as glaring as half of the ITV staff.)

    David Howell

    July 13, 2010

  2. I wish I’d switched off the Beeb’s “From the England camp reports”, too. Gabby Logan managed to get us the rules to the England squad’s dart’s league, and her singing to Capello on his birthday was the second most cringeworthy thing of the tournament after Shearer in the Townships (“So what was segregation like?”).

    Rob

    July 13, 2010

  3. I’ve often wondered if football pundits and commentators watch any football other than the matches they’ve been assigned to cover (and even then it’s a moot point if they watch that particular tie), given their often glaringly lack of knowledge around recent results.

    I live half a world away (NZ), have a full time job, a family and coach football and yet I seem to be able to watch more than someone who is paid an awful lot of money to know of what they speak. What is it then, that they do with their time when not commentating at the football?

    Our local coverage was poor but I suppose given our lack of exposure to this sort of thing it was only going to only ever be New Zealand and England focused because, sadly, that’s what we equate with football over here.

    Once the English were out so was our reporting, basically, bar the winner of the final.

    Noshow

    July 14, 2010

  4. To wit:

    Our football ‘experts’, writing in the major daily over here in NZ all scored less than 50% success rate in picking head to heads….

    Noshow

    July 14, 2010

  5. Great article, it appears that research and knowledge seem to have been shunned in favour of commentators and analysts looking for soundbites. The levels of bias was also excessive at times, although we’ve come to expect that during major international competitions.

    Peter

    July 14, 2010

  6. Excellent piece, but you omit (perhaps by reason of word count, or because it would warrant a separate article altogether) both the BBC and ITV’s blatant disregard of the truth when it came to analysing England’s performances up to the Germany game.

    Both BBC and ITV panelists know exactly how poorly England played but were under editorial instruction to act as cheerleaders rather than analysts, resulting in the kind of tabloid patriotism that makes liars and fools out of men who’ve been paid substantial sums of money (public money in the case of the BBC) to interpret, analyse and explain the game to the public at large.

    Bias is one thing – every country in Europe does it. It’s fine to always see a 50/50 decision in your own country’s favour, or to decry a narrow loss as being a case of desperate misfortune (and, as is often the case in Italy, an organised conspiracy against the Azzurri by FIFA or some equally shadowy organisation). But what the BBC and ITV did when reporting on England went far beyond the boundaries of bias and into the realm of deliberately calculated misinformation rather than patriotic delusion. Why? Because when England were finally out, both the BBC and ITV’s panelists felt at liberty to finally admit that not only had England played badly against Germany, but that they had played badly the entire tournament.

    Fionn Davenport

    July 14, 2010

  7. Excellent article thanks you.
    I have often been left very frustrated at TV commentators and pundits during international tournaments. What really gets to me is the insistence to connect every player somehow to the English leagues. They can’t say a player’s name without mentioneing their club in England. It’s cheap cliched reporting.

    James

    July 14, 2010

  8. Could not agree more with your assertions, that these overpaid and underprepared idiots were a disgrace.
    A few additional points I had on the overall coverage
    a) Could they have cheered for ‘AFRICA’ any more than they did? I found it patronising to the nations who have countless players spread through the top leagues of Europe.
    b) Every show seemed to have a report on politics or history – fronted by the morons who left school without an o grade on their panels. You mention Shearer but all of it was embarrassing. Did I miss the reports from German orphanages and schools 4 years ago?
    c) Hanson didn’t want to do games he didnt fancy like New Zealand and openly said so – for what he is getting paid THAT is sackable.
    d) Far too many ‘foreign’ analysts, for every + there was a massive -. Did Dutch or Italian telly have David Platt or Carlton Palmer?

    Too may complaints actually I’d do an article as long as yours purely with additions.

    Iain

    July 14, 2010

  9. Excellent article. I’ve slated the media coverage myself; I guess they get a lot of stick but their laziness really deserves it.

    I read an excellent article by Tom English making some similar points, particularly the lack of preparation (though he concentrates on the Beeb rather than ITV). Here’s the link: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/sport/Tom-English-39The-level-of.6364084.jp

    As mentioned above by Rob the lowest point in a tournament of broadcasting low points was Alan Shearer visiting the township in Cape Town. I sat open-mouthed through the whole thing.

    And I am shocked to read that Robbie Earle was earning £175,000 a year. Does this mean ITV could save an even larger fee by replacing Andy Townsend with a pissed squirrel in a suit?

    Ungentlemanly Conduct

    July 14, 2010

  10. It seems that the only qualification necessary to be a pundit is to have been a professional footballer. It’s the old fan-insulting “you wouldn’t know, you haven’t played at this level” thing. Towards the end of the BBC’s coverage of the final, after the team had been drooling over Iniesta, Lineker mentioned that Diego Forlan had been awarded the Golden Ball. The reactions from the pundits suggested that this was ridiculous, that it should have gone to Iniesta (a great player, but the team seemed to be making their judgement based on the last few minutes of the tournament). Someone asked who decides the winner of the Golden Ball, and when Lineker said, ‘Journalists’ the response was a sneering ‘ah, that explains it’. On the subject of Forlan, he’s consistently been one of the top goalscorers in Europe over the past five years, a fact which you hardly need to be a die-hard follower of Spanish football to be aware of. Why, then, all the harking back to his time at Man United?

    Paddy

    July 14, 2010

  11. Hugh Pym isn’t the BBC’s Economics Editor.

    Jock

    July 14, 2010

  12. The way they all patronised Africa and South Africa in particular was off the scale!

    “It’s not all jungle, gold and diamonds you know, there’s Nelson Mandela too!” etc.

    Only the Beeb’s Spion Kop piece was well-done and that was an extra-time replacement filler. That was probably the only time I have not wanted to bash Lawrenson’s face in with a rusty spade.

    In their defence I suppose they just knew their audience…

    Martin

    July 14, 2010

  13. Totally agree. I was embarassed by the level of punditry of the BBC. In fact a small glimmer of hope was when Danny Baker did some talk, who talked about a game (can’t remember the game, think it may have been before the England vs Algeria), and unlike the doom & gloom showed by the rest of the team by England’s “Terrible Performance” against USA, he said what we all thought, that they didn’t play too bad against strong opposition.

    Rhys

    July 14, 2010

  14. I can’t believe i read through this long article without seeing the name Mick McCarthy. He is the worst commentator ever.

    Meanwhile, I think the BBC were wise to introduce the alternative commentary with the (occasionally annoying) Chris Moyles and Comedy Dave because their commentary beat any of the so called professionals.

    Dùde

    July 14, 2010

  15. Good article with valid points, let down by your own poor spelling which undermines your argument somewhat

    Marsh

    July 14, 2010

  16. Following tweets from broadsheet and tabloid journalists was barely less depressing. “Terry in danger of misjudging mood of the nation” was one of my favourites. I think they really feel they talk for “the nation”… and the broadsheet journos were unbelievably patronising to Africa, South Africa, Tutu, Mandela etc.

    No depth, no vision and full of self-importance.

    Bluebaz

    July 14, 2010

  17. Excellent article Mark. I would say though, and this is unfortunate, that this level of incompetence is not restricted to Britain. I watched the World Cup on TV in South Africa, England and Spain, and it is a widespread disease. The Martin Keown equivalent in SA was Gary Bailey – zero research. And the JJ Santos commentary in Spain was a classic, telling us when he thought he had hit upon an interesting stat, that the only previous World Cup Final to go to extra time was in 1994. And then proudly repeating it over and over again.

    Tony

    July 14, 2010

  18. Good article, its not just World Cup coverage that’s bad though is it? Its bad all the time. The Allinson/Clough/Hill years were but a blip werent they?

    Jobs for the boys, anti-intellectualism and smug moronic self-congratulation have been the name of the game for as long as I care to remember.

    I would say it has had an negative effect on the way we view football as a nation for a long time. These morons need hounding out of the game, they are a clear & present danger to the progression of the game in this country

    Luke Rowe

    July 14, 2010

  19. which would be a resignation on the spot in any other form of work

    No it wouldn’t.

    ejh

    July 14, 2010

  20. A fantastic read and a great summary of what really was an abhorrent effort from both ITV and BBC match panels.

    The introduction to the Chile v Honduras game was cringe worthy at best as all panelists seemed to battle against each other to see who knew the least about the two sides.

    This game, sadly, wasn’t the only match to suffer that fate.

    As said earlier, a great piece and it’d be nice if the comments were responded to by somebody from the broadcasters.

    We can live in hope.

    Scott

    July 14, 2010

  21. Couldn’t agree more with most of what is being said either in the article or the resultant comments. As well as the obvious lack of preparation (is anyone an ‘unknown’ these days?) and the blatant bias towards England, what I also found galling was the bias towards the self-proclaimed ‘Greatest League in the World’. That one of their supposedly top players Cesc Fabregas managed approximately 2 hours of football in the entire tournament was of huge irritation to these pundits. That he was being kept out of the team by Pedro (who hasn’t even played in England so how can he be any good?) seemed to infuriate them more. Hence the shrugging of shoulders when Forlan, the Premiership flop at 21 almost ten tears ago, deservedly won the Golden Ball.

    Overall, a big ‘well done’ again to David Villa, now top scorer at consecutive major tournaments, Xavi and Iniesta, none of whom would be able to cut it in England because they’re not ‘physical enough’ and to Gerard Pique also, who, having ‘failed’ in England, has won pretty much everything worth winning.

    Mr Understanding

    July 14, 2010

  22. excellent article. the lack of prep they do for the high wages they get is beyond beleif. hansen who’s normally good on the motd, just goes for national stereo-types. you’re so right about total football & the preview to portugal v brazil. i also don’t like the way they right off the minnows. hansen predicted 7-0 for arg v greece , then moans when greece put up some resistance & arg are incapable of breaking them down. even shearer ( who’s not the brightest) managed to work that out. how i laughed watching bbc swiss v spain preview that i’d recorded. i don’t expect equal preview time but surely a minute on their better players would have been ok. oh no, it was just going to be another walk-over. spain apparently had no weaknesses. is this the same hansen who slates arsenal week in week out for trying to walk the ball into the net. all teams have relative weaknesses if you bother to do your research like marcotti /balaguer/honigstein/tim vickery etc . its easier than ever to do basic prep via wikipedia or youtube . the comparison with a budget debate is so true.

    Simon

    July 14, 2010

  23. By contrast the rte commentary was excellent. Giles, dunphy and Brady knew exactly what they were talking about and their predictions, research and analysis very good. They can come across as gruff and argumentative but they call it as they see it and picked out players who impressed them or were weak links, these players weren’t household names like itv and BBC. Souness also gave great insights.

    Jimmylav

    July 14, 2010

  24. Here in the US, ESPN had a lot of big names, and the quality of commentating and punditry was generally much higher than we are used to for football. The standout was Roberto Martinez (Wigan’s coach) for me. He was spot on everytime they had him sitting behind the desk in the studio.

    There was an incident during a game being covered by John Harkes and I believe Ian Darke where a deep cross was played into the box and the attacking side scored but the goal was disallowed for offside. The replays showed the scorer was onside, but you could clearly see another attacker, in an offside position jump up and nearly head the ball before it came down to the goal scorers foot. Both Harkes and Darke could not see the offside and thought the goal should have counted. “Linesman mistake” they agreed. Everyone who has watched or played this game even a little knows why it was called offside but these two did not. It took until halftime, for Roberto Martinez to actually explain it correctly.

    When commentators don’t understand the rules completely it starts to make me wonder what qualifications are actually necessary to become one.

    LiverpoolYank

    July 14, 2010

  25. What amazed me most about the reporting etc was the sheer of number of different people sent by ITV & particularly the BBC.

    For example what was Garth Crooks’ contribution? More relevant, what is the point of Garth Crooks.

    Dave

    July 14, 2010

  26. Most of the news/sport media in this country should be out apologising for completely getting their predictions for the tournament wrong. From the fear mongering about the hosts to basing their opinions on out of date stereotypes.

    The bit that pissed me off most was the Germany v England game where all they talked about was a penalty shootout that never happened, and never really stood a chance of happening. I’m sick of the lot of them.

    Whenever I saw a genuinely decent piece of writing about the 2010 World Cup it was always on a football blog like this, and not in the traditional media. And they wonder why they’re going down the pan…

    ronvelig

    July 14, 2010

  27. Any old ignorant opinionated idiot can be a TV pundit or sports journalist.

    For some reason it’s just not exposed to the same degree of professionalism and competence as every other form of journalism or TV presenting, including kids TV!

    Martin

    July 14, 2010

  28. Nice post, LiverpoolYank. I keep hoping the lack of Tommy Smythe on ESPN during the World Cup means he’s gone for good, but I’m sure he’ll be back when the season starts.

    Greg

    July 14, 2010

  29. @Dave

    I quite like Garth Crooks, he’s fairly mental and interesting when let of the leash. Crooks gets a job in my scheduling.

    Luke Rowe

    July 14, 2010

  30. I had to mute the TV while watching games because of all the pointless blaring.

    The vuvuzelas were annoying too.

    My viewing habit became: turn on the PVR at 7:30 and hit pause just as they’re about to kick off. Do something else for 20 minutes. Press play. When it gets to half-time, just fast forward past the ‘experts’. Then switch off when the ref blows the final whistle.

    I’m not particularly bothered about watching in real time.

    kruador

    July 14, 2010

  31. “Simon” has stolen my thunder a bit, but it’s worth just paraphrasing – I watched Argentina and Greece, and dopey stupid Greece, those rodney plonkers from South Eastern Europe, were making the mistake of defending really well against Argentina and getting slated for it. Flip over to the other BBC channel at the same time, South Korea and Nigeria are defending poorly and giving away goals, and getting slated for it. Make up your mind lads. A few other quick points:

    - Commentators are poor, but co-commentators with their crappy double act japes are worse. The best commentating performance of the finals came when Jim Beglin cried off with earache and Clive Tyldesley had to talk to us instead of his mate.

    - Alan Hansen said in every half time interval the words, “We spoke earlier about…” and “Time and time again we say…”, and I don’t think I ever recalled these observations being made prior to the matches kicking off.

    - Ray Stubbs, please please please say something other than, “What’s your assessment of that game”.

    Gervillian Swike

    July 14, 2010

  32. I didn’t think the punditry during and after the matches was too bad, although in truth I pretty much stuck to the BBC. Adrian Chiles seems a decent bloke but it’s odd watching someone who you kinda know wouldn’t watch ITV if he wasn’t on it because of the ‘annoying as hell’ ad breaks.

    Seedorf was fine and Shearer actually came up with some reasonable comments for a change. Some of he documentaries pieces were cringe making but then again my children found them moving and informative. Not everyone knows about the country’s past troubles.

    It would be nice, however, to see some innovations in the way the game is presented. I wonder if any other countries do it differently? In Spain and Italy the press spend far more time dissecting tactics than we do in the UK so I wonder if this translates to the TV?

    Robster

    July 14, 2010

  33. That one of their supposedly top players Cesc Fabregas managed approximately 2 hours of football in the entire tournament was of huge irritation to these pundits. That he was being kept out of the team by Pedro (who hasn’t even played in England so how can he be any good?) seemed to infuriate them more.

    In fact Fabregas was mostly being kept out by not being fully fit. He wasn’t kept out by Pedro, who didn’t start a game until the semi-final.

    Research eh?

    ejh

    July 14, 2010

  34. My favourite moment was, watching a Netherlands game on ITV (don’t remember which one – may have been the semi-final), hearing one or other of the commentators mention that ‘there will be a lot of Holland supporters in South Africa tonight’ on the basis that the Afrikaaners were Dutch. Absolutely, fantastically stupid.

    .Jack

    July 14, 2010

  35. “Hansen just resorts to national steroetypes”

    Typical Scot.

    ;0)

    Torbes

    July 15, 2010

  36. Great article. Some of my highlights from the tournament include Clive Tyldesley’s intro to the England v Algeria game – to paraphrase, what we were about to witness was a mere formality, a training game where Algeria were kind enough to turn up and get horsed by the World Cup contenders. Woops.

    This was closely followed by Lawrenson during England v Germany. You didn’t need to picture the scene, you could just see Lawro’s face getting more and more crinkled, the bottom lip sticking out and him slouched in his chair with his arms folded (the toys had been thrown from the pram by this point).

    But you also had to admire Hansen. His levels of patronisation soared to new heights whenever Clarence Seedorf was sat next him. Obviously, because English isn’t Seedorf’s first language (nor Hansen’s for that matter), Hansen had to make a point of “spea-king-real-ly-slow-ly-so-that-Clar-ence-could-under-stand-what-he-was-ask-ing-him” and also giving him a reassuring tap on the fore arm for good measure.

    Hansen also covered himself in glory the day before the New Zealand v Slovakia game. There was no hiding the fact that he wasn’t up for this one and therefore, why should any of the rest of us. I mean, the poor guy, he’s only been paid to go out to South Africa for a month and do his job. We all have days were we can’t be arsed, so it’s understandable. Anyway, New Zealand are even lower down the rankings than Scotland, so they must be shit, so don’t bother watching the game because he won’t be. Well, thanks Alan for wonderful insight.

    I really, really hope something changes before the Euro’s… but what are the chances?

    Willie Miller's tache

    July 17, 2010

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