Saud al-Qahtani, a Saudi minister has called for an end to beIN Sports' monopoly over the broadcasting rights for major competitions in the Middle East
Saudi Arabia has strongly denied accusations it was behind a television service pirating multi-billion-dollar content, with a senior official saying that authorities have confiscated thousands of pieces of equipment being used to illegally watch premium football events like the World Cup.
Saud al-Qahtani, a Saudi minister and a royal court adviser, said the nation’s football association has filed a complaint to FIFA, the world’s football governing body, detailing what he described as “transgressions against the kingdom and its leadership” by Qatar’s beIN Sports network.
He called for an end to beIN Sports’ monopoly over the broadcasting rights for major competitions in the Middle East.
“The ball is in the court of FIFA, international federations and organisers of international competitions,”’ he said in an emailed response to questions.
The one-year political crisis between a Saudi-led coalition and Qatar has spilled into football after Qatar accused its neighbour of pirating content such as World Cup games, through a channel called BeoutQ.
European football’s governing body, UEFA, said Thursday that BeoutQ is based in Saudi Arabia, but didn’t offer any evidence to back its claim.
Al-Qahtani, in rare public remarks to international news organisations, said Saudi authorities have confiscated 12,000 devices used for illegal streaming.
“I believe that the actual number of confiscated devices will prove much higher,” he said.
Authorities will continue “to conduct inspection campaigns in coordination with all relevant bodies to prevent any attempt to broadcast any illegal content,” he said.
BeoutQ says it is backed by Colombian, Cuban and Middle Eastern investors.
FIFA, which makes hundreds of millions of dollars selling TV rights, has already said it was weighing legal action against the channel.
On its website, BeoutQ says it is "a partnership between a Colombian company and a Cuban company, operating according to the laws of the two countries which consider its work 100 percent legal."
Many Saudis say it was easy to buy the devices in shops across the kingdom in the lead up to the World Cup, generally for as much as 400 riyals ($107), including a year-long subscription.
It’s now common to see BeoutQ playing in homes, restaurants and cafes that purchased receivers.
The channel was playing on big screens at a government-sponsored event in the Saudi capital on Wednesday showing the national team’s game against Uruguay.
It was also playing on a large public screen on the side of a building on Tahlia Street, the city’s main commercial boulevard.
But al-Qahtani, who described piracy as an “international problem,” said “Saudi Arabia respects the importance of protecting intellectual rights and abiding by international conventions.”
For set-up boxes to be available “in Arab markets does not mean that Saudi Arabia or any other county is connected to it,” he said. Other countries such as Oman and Kuwait have taken similar steps and confiscated the illegal devices.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, have severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar over accusations of supporting terrorism, charges the gas-rich country has repeatedly denied.
Al-Qahtani, in remarks to CNN, said beIN Sports didn’t have a license to operate in Saudi Arabia. He also said the kingdom was monitoring “all accusations levelled against it, and will take legal action against those who promote them.”