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Saudi Arabia and Qatar's clash over World Cup piracy just got worse

Key Points
  • Saudi Arabia and Qatar are clashing over the broadcasting of the World Cup soccer tournament.
  • Qatar says a Saudi-based TV station is illegally broadcasting its content.
  • Saudi Arabia denies the allegations.   

A row between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over the broadcasting of the World Cup soccer tournament shows no signs of dying down, with soccer’s European and international governing bodies now heavily involved in the dispute.

Qatari-owned sports and entertainment broadcaster beIN Sports, which has the exclusive rights to show World Cup games in the Middle East and North Africa region, has accused TV channel BeoutQ — which it claims is based in Saudi Arabia — of stealing and illegally broadcasting its coverage of the sports tournament taking place in Russia.

Russia World Cup stadium
Pool/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia has denied the claims and the spat is seen as another front in a diplomatic dispute between the neighbors amid a Saudi-led blockade of Qatar.

International soccer governing bodies, which garner millions of dollars for selling the broadcasting rights to games, have also become involved.

FIFA, the international football association, published a statement in mid-June saying that it was “aware that a pirate channel named BeoutQ has illegally distributed the opening matches of 2018 FIFA World Cup in the MENA region.”

“FIFA takes infringements of its intellectual property very seriously and is exploring all options to stop the infringement of its rights, including in relation to action against legitimate organizations that are seen to support such illegal activities. We refute that BeoutQ has received any rights from FIFA to broadcast any FIFA event,” it said.

FIFA confirmed it was considering legal action against the TV station, which has reportedly shown no signs of stopping the broadcasting of World Cup games. The Gulf Times reported that when beIN Sports put a ticker-tape feed across the bottom of the screen informing BeoutQ viewers that they were watching stolen footage, the Saudi station “simply superimposed its own message over that.”

UEFA, the European football confederation, last week accused the pirate channel of illegally distributing European games as well.

“UEFA strongly condemns all unauthorized broadcasting and illegal streaming activity. We are aware that a pirate channel, named BeoutQ based in Saudi Arabia, has illegally distributed the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League throughout the 2017/18 season, including the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev on May 26," the body said in a widely-reported statement released last week.

"UEFA considers that illegal piracy of live football, particularly on the scale of that being carried out by BeoutQ, poses a significant threat to European football," the statement said. "For the avoidance of doubt, BeoutQ has received no rights whatsoever from UEFA to broadcast any UEFA event.”

NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC, has also reportedly complained that it's Telemundo unit (which holds the Spanish language rights to the World Cup in the U.S.) has seen its broadcast of the tournament illegally distributed by BeoutQ.

Saudi Arabia kicks off

Saudi Arabia is not taking the accusations lying down, with Qatar, FIFA and UEFA receiving a sharp rebuke from the kingdom. The country’s sports minister, Turki al-Sheikh, took to Twitter last Thursday to deliver a series of stinging comments criticizing UEFA and FIFA and their decision to allow beIN Sports — which he insinuated was a propaganda instrument of Qatar — to show the games.

Saudi’s Ministry of Information also rejected the accusation that BeoutQ is based in the kingdom, stating last Friday that UEFA’s claim is “completely incorrect.

“The Ministry of Information has become aware of irresponsible accusations made in a UEFA press release regarding an entity known as BeoutQ. UEFA baselessly claims that BeoutQ ‘is based in Saudi Arabia.’ The Ministry of Media unequivocally rejects this claim.”

Calling UEFA’s statement “irresponsible,” it added that Saudi Arabia had in fact “relentlessly combatted BeoutQ’s activities within the country.”

“For instance, the Ministry of Commerce has seized thousands of set-top boxes that would otherwise be used to violate intellectual property (IP) in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). The government of Saudi Arabia is, and will remain, devoted to protecting IP rights within the country,” it said.

There’s no love lost between Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the moment after Saudi, along with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, imposed an economic blockade on the small Arab state last year, accusing it of supporting terrorism — charges that Qatar denies. A consequence of the impasse has been that Saudi Arabia, and a number of its Arab allies, have banned the Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera from operating or broadcasting in their countries.

The Saudi Ministry of Information noted this in its statement, saying that Qatar’s beIN Sports “is the source of UEFA’s reckless allegation (and it is) a subsidiary of the Al Jazeera Media Network.”

It repeated its claims that Al Jazeera “is Qatar’s principal media arm for supporting terrorism and promoting instability in the region. Al Jazeera provides a media platform for terrorists to propagate their violent message. KSA has also banned broadcasts by beIN Sports in Saudi Arabia for the same reason.”

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Egypt is part of the four-country blockade on Qatar.