Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports has asked Italy’s football league not to play a showpiece match in Saudi Arabia, accusing the country of backing the pirating of live coverage and highlighting protests from human rights activists.
The staging of the Italian Super Cup in Jeddah next Wednesday has embroiled Italy’s Serie A in the Saudi-led economic boycott of Qatar, which has been in place since June 2017.
With beIN holding the Middle East rights to most major sporting events, viewers across the region are reliant on paying for subscriptions for Doha-originated telecasts.
That has led to the network becoming a proxy in the regional diplomatic standoff stemming from accusations, which Qatar denies, that the state supports armed groups.
Evidence gathered by beIN claims to show that Saudi-backed channels are pirating their live-action feeds and inserting “beoutQ” branding over the Qatari logos, including for matches in Serie A where Cristiano Ronaldo plays for Juventus.
Global governing body FIFA is among football organisations backing its rights holder by pursuing legal action in Saudi Arabia.
BeIN chief executive officer Yousef al-Obaidly has written to Serie A counterpart Luigi De Siervo, who was appointed last month, to demand the Italian league “join the international sporting community’s fight against piracy by beoutQ”.
“Of all the countries in the world that you could have chosen to host your game, you have chosen the one country that is state-supporting the theft of your content on an industrial scale,” al-Obaidly wrote in the letter sent Wednesday.
“If the game goes ahead, Serie A will have failed to uphold its duty to its member clubs and the wider sporting community … whose intellectual property rights, and revenue streams, are threatened by beoutQ’s actions.”
Tickets for the game between Juventus and AC Milan at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium sold out in less than two days.
Al-Obaidly asked Serie A to reconsider “whether it is appropriate to proceed with the Super Cup match in Jeddah when other options remain available even at this late stage”.
There have already been calls for the match to be moved after the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
US intelligence has assessed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who controls all levers of power in Saudi Arabia, likely ordered or at least knew about the killing.
Protecting contractual rights
In his letter to Serie A, al-Obaidly “noted the increasing calls from many quarters … asking that you reconsider the venue,” citing Italian politicians, Amnesty International, journalist groups and “conscious sports fans”.
There was no immediate response to requests for comment from Serie A and the Saudi government.
Organisers of the AFC Asian Cup tournament, which is currently being played in the United Arab Emirates, said on Wednesday that they had instructed lawyers in Saudi Arabia to take action to stop the beoutQ broadcasts.
“The AFC will continue to support its commercial and broadcast partners by protecting their contractual rights,” the Asian football body said.
BeIN is the exclusive broadcaster of the month-long tournament, which runs until February 1.
Last month, the World Trade Organization (WTO) said it would investigate Qatar’s allegations of intellectual property breaches by Saudi Arabia, including the piracy of beIN content.
Riyadh has objected to the WTO move on national security grounds. It has also denied claims that beoutQ is based in the kingdom and distanced itself from its operation.