Spanish TV shuns Super Cup in Saudi over rights concerns

Spanish broadcaster RTVE says it will not cover football tournament in Jeddah since kingdom 'violates human rights'.

    Spanish TV shuns Super Cup in Saudi over rights concerns
    Last year's tournament was played outside of Spain for the first time ever with Barcelona beating Sevilla 2-1 in Morocco [Jon Nazca/Reuters]

    Spanish state-owned broadcaster RTVE has said it would not bid to broadcast the upcoming Spanish Super Cup football tournament in Saudi Arabia due to human rights concerns.

    Spain's football federation, RFEF, announced this week a three-year deal to play the revamped tournament in Saudi Arabia, with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Valencia due to contest the first edition in Jeddah in January 2020.

    "RTVE will not join the bidding to buy the rights to broadcast the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia because this country violates human rights, especially women's rights in the area of sport," RTVE's head of sport Jesus Alvarez said.

    "It's a country where until very recently women couldn't go to watch football. Human rights are fundamental to this corporation, which has made a big push for women's sport in the last few years," he added, speaking on the channel.

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    Speaking at the announcement of Saudi Arabia as hosts for the tournament on Monday, RFEF President Luis Rubiales said he could guarantee women would be able to attend without restrictions.

    "Our idea is that football can be a tool of social change," he said. "There will be people who are for and against this decision, but we are certain we have made the right move."

    Controversies and criticism

    The Spanish Super Cup, generally played as a curtain-raiser for the season, was previously a one-off match contested between the Liga and Copa del Rey champions at the start of the season.

    But the federation has changed it to semifinals and final featuring four teams - the top teams in each competition - in the middle of the season.

    The Spanish Football Federation cited its ambitions to host the 2030 World Cup as a factor in giving Saudi Arabia a three-year deal on Monday - defying recent advice from UEFA's president for European football teams not to play in countries "where the basic rights of women are not respected".

    Spain's acting junior minister for sport, Maria Jose Rienda, also said the government would not support holding the competition "in countries where women's rights are not respected".

    Saudi Arabia has long faced international criticism over its treatment of women.

    A ban on women attending football matches in the conservative Muslim kingdom was lifted in 2017 as part of a wider easing of social restrictions championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

    Under his rule, the kingdom has lifted a ban on women driving, eased rules on gender segregation and women's dress code, and chipped away at a guardianship system that gives male relatives control over key decisions in women's lives.

    However, some barriers remain and several female activists have been put on trial.

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    Spain's move follows Italy, which played its Super Cup in the kingdom last January. That game went ahead despite protests by Italian politicians and human rights activists who cited the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

    Spain's federation has not said how much the deal was worth but said all income earned would be reinvested in amateur football and women's football, aside from money granted to the four competing clubs.

    Spanish newspaper ABC said the federation would earn between 35-40 million euros ($39-$44m) a year from the deal. 

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    SOURCE: News agencies