UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond urged senior Saudi officials to crack down on the theft of valuable sports rights, according to a person familiar with the situation.
During a trip to the Gulf state earlier this month, Hammond and his entourage referred repeatedly to illegal broadcasts of UK events that hold global appeal such as Wimbledon tennis and Premier League football, said the person, who asked not to be identified as the meetings were confidential.
The Saudi government has denied any links to BeoutQ, a satellite-TV broadcaster and streaming service that global sports bodies say is tapping illegally into coverage of their top events and selling it on to viewers across the Middle East. Hammond’s intervention may carry weight in Riyadh as Saudi Arabia is Britain’s traditional ally in the region.
BeoutQ uses the Arabsat satellite network based in the Saudi capital. The kingdom is Arabsat’s biggest shareholder, with a 36.7% stake.
BeIN Media, a broadcaster based in Saudi’s regional rival Qatar, holds many of the rights to sports that are shown by BeoutQ. It sees the operation as a deliberate attempt to sabotage its business and has threatened to withdraw from some top competitions unless more is done to stop it.
The Saudi government’s Centre for International Communication did not respond to an email seeking comment. The Saudi government has said previously that BeoutQ is a rogue operation and it has been trying to police it. Arabsat says it has no ties to BeoutQ.
Sports rights owners have called on the British government to help them get BeoutQ shut down. On Sunday the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which puts on the Wimbledon championship, said it would make “the strongest representations” to the government to put pressure on Saudi Arabian authorities to immediately close BeoutQ following its “illegal exploitation of world sport.”
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright told the head of a committee of British lawmakers in May that the government was discussing the issue of BeoutQ’s “illegal” broadcasts of Premier League games with the Saudis via diplomatic channels.
“It is important the Saudi Arabian government upholds commitments undertaken through the World Trade Organisation’s agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights and in the EU-Gulf co-operation agreement,” Wright wrote in a letter to the committee’s chairman, Damian Collins.
A spokesman for the UK Treasury declined to comment on any specific meeting involving Hammond but said the government has repeatedly raised the issue with Saudi Arabia.
BeIN Media lodged an international investment arbitration case seeking $1 billion in damages last October, contending that illegal re-broadcasts of its content have driven it out of the Saudi market.
BeIN Media said it invested around 650 million pounds ($809 million) during the last rights cycle in UK sporting events. The broadcaster, one of the world’s largest sports rights buyers, has decided not to renew rights for Formula One motor racing in the Gulf, citing piracy as an issue.
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