Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that it permanently cancelled the licence of Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports, which has been barred from broadcasting in the kingdom since mid-2017 over political disputes with Qatar.
Saudi’s General Authority for Competition (GAC) said in a statement that it was also fining beIN Sports 10 million riyals ($2.67m) for practices “that restrict competition”.
GAC’s decision comes after it launched an investigation into complaints accusing beIN of “monopolistic practices” during the European Football Championship 2016.
Tuesday’s move was the latest involving the Saudi government and the Doha-based sports broadcaster after the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled last month that Riyadh actively supported the beoutQ pirate TV operation, and breached its obligations under international law to protect intellectual property rights.
The Qatari network was quick to denounce the Saudi move on Tuesday.
“This decision was arrived at through sham legal proceedings that repeatedly violated beIN’s due process rights at every turn,” beIN said in a statement.
“We would also question – as we have for three years – how Saudi citizens can watch Premier League matches legally in Saudi Arabia with this permanent ban on the Premier League’s licensed broadcaster?”
BeIn Sports holds exclusive rights to broadcast international tournaments to the Middle East and North Africa region and Europe
The WTO ruled in favour of a case filed by Qatar against Saudi Arabia and pirate broadcaster beoutQ for distributing content belonging to beIN. The verdict said Riyadh violated international intellectual property rules by shielding beoutQ from legal action.
The international trade body also found beoutQ was hosted on frequencies transmitted by satellite provider Arabsat, an entity with a Saudi CEO, majority-owned by the Saudi government, with its headquarters in Riyadh.
The hosting was facilitated by Saudi Television Company LLC, the WTO said, endorsing a 2019 French court decision that definitively ruled that Arabsat carried beoutQ.
Arabsat, according to the WTO ruling, has ignored hundreds of take-down notices from the Premier League, FIFA, UEFA, beIN, and other broadcasters.
“We also note that Saudi Arabia’s state-sponsored pirate channel, beoutQ, bundled rights and removed competition for nearly three years, yet the only action the Saudi authorities have taken is to deliberately block FIFA, UEFA, the Premier League, and others from taking legal action nine times – in complete breach of WTO rules,” said beIN.
“Saudi Arabia’s relentless failure to pay any heed to the rule of law or international norms is only harming sports fans in Saudi, and sports organisations all around the world.”
BeoutQ began broadcasting after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt severed all ties with Qatar and imposed a land, sea, and air blockade against it in June 2017.
The four countries accused Qatar of “supporting terrorism” and meddling in neighbouring countries’ affairs. Qatar rejected the allegations.
Shortly after the blockade was enforced, all beIN Sports channels were banned in the blockading nations and their equipment was confiscated in Saudi Arabia.
The latest development comes as Saudi Arabia seeks to play an increasingly larger role in the world of sports and entertainment, including through investments in football clubs – all of which, the WTO pointed out, is predicated on the protection of intellectual property.
The Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund has for months been trying to buy Premier League club Newcastle United. It is not yet clear how the WTO verdict will affect the bid.