Qatar’s beIN threatens suit over AFC soccer rights

Employees work in a broadcast control room at the beIN Sports studio. (Reuters pic)

DOHA: A Qatar-based media group has accused the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) of breaching a multi-million-dollar rights deal by streaming its matches in Saudi Arabia online, escalating a feud over sports broadcasting rights in the Gulf region.

The AFC said on Tuesday it would start streaming AFC games involving Saudi teams playing in Saudi Arabia on its geo-blocked Facebook and YouTube digital channels so that Saudi fans could tune in.

It said the move would fulfil its commitment to promote its competitions “for the benefit of all our stakeholders”.

Qatar-based broadcaster beIN holds exclusive TV rights to the matches but has been barred from operating in Saudi Arabia since a Saudi-led bloc launched a diplomatic and trade boycott of Qatar in mid-2017.

Its signal is blocked in Saudi Arabia.

BeIN CEO Yousef Al-Obaidly said the AFC move was a “material breach” of its multi-million dollar regional broadcast agreement with the AFC.

BeIN would take immediate legal action “to recover damages and protect our position,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

When contacted by Reuters, the AFC said it was not yet in a position to make an official comment on the matter.

The Saudi-led bloc boycotting Qatar, which includes Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, accuses the tiny but wealthy Gulf state of supporting terrorism, which Doha denies.

The row has meant beIN has no on-pitch presence for matches in Saudi Arabia, once its top regional market, where AFC Champions League matches kicked off this month.

BeIN has continued to broadcast Saudi-based matches with commentary from Doha.

That has helped keep intact a US$300 million deal for exclusive rights to eight seasons of AFC matches for the Middle East and North Africa through to 2020, according to a source familiar with the deal.

BeIN did not disclose the value of damages it would seek but said the lawsuit would be raised at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre.

Several major sports bodies, including the AFC, have said they would take legal action in Saudi Arabia against television channel beoutQ, which has been illegally broadcasting global sporting events pirated from beIN.

Riyadh says beoutQ is not based in the country and that Saudi authorities are committed to fighting piracy.