Almanack: States engaged by phonecard fever

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The Independent Online
NOTWITHSTANDING last week's survey, reported here, which found that international soccer was the 95th most popular sport in the US, the marketing of next year's World Cup continues to gather pace. The latest development is garish advertisements in the international press anouncing the availability of 'Limited Edition Sprint World Cup '94 Prepaid Calling Cards'. 'Only 2,500' sets of these irresistible phonecards will be issued, at dollars 80 each. But are they really worthy of the hype?

They are, according to Dr Stephen Hiscocks, editor of International Phonecards, the journal for fusilatelists. 'They've produced a flossy set of cards,' he declares. 'We had them on the front cover of our journal just recently.' Dr Hiscocks claims that there are two million collectors of phonecards in the world (an estimate not disputed by British Telecom): will they be chasing the US '94 cards? 'They're pretty attractive cards', he says, 'so I imagine quite a lot of people in this country will have gone for them, but even more in Germany where there's a strong fashion for American cards.'

Sporting cards are a popular theme among collectors. The reason, according to Dr Hiscocks, is sex: 'You have to remember that something like 85-90 per cent of collectors are men,' he says, 'so the thematic interests tend to be male- oriented, things like motor cars, transport of one sort or another, sporting cards, pin-up cards I'm afraid, whereas flowers and pussy cats and things like that don't seem to be terribly popular.'

It is not necessary to be an expert on either sport or telephone cards to notice an optimistic element in the design of the 10-Unit card, which gives great prominence to a Union Jack. Will BT be issuing a similar card? 'As the footballers would say', comments BT phonecard expert Peter Rampling, 'it's in the lap of the gods.' He pauses for a moment. 'The ones we're issuing at the moment are in support of the Royal National Institute for the Blind.'