KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Football authorities are starting to launch formal action against the Saudi Arabia-based BeoutQ pirate sports television channel which is threatening the credibility of the rights industry on which major worldwide sport depends.

The point about BeoutQ – and the Saudi authorities’ apparent contented acquiesence in its rogue business model – is that if one pirate is allowed to escape action for its behaviour in the Middle East and North Africa then other channels in other parts of the world will copy it with potentially devastating financial effect on its billions in TV-dollar revenues.

World football federation FIFA, European governing body UEFA and the World Tennis Federation have all raged at the theft of their sport’s rights contracts but, up until now, no-one has appeared willing to take full-frontal action.

BeoutQ boxed in? . . . Apparently not

In the case of FIFA, critics of the organisation have linked this with delicate negotiations over a $25bn Saudi-involved offer for joint control of a revamped Club World Cup and projected Global Nations League.

FIFA officials have always insisted, off the record, that this is not the case. Asked formally for a statement of action undertaken, a spokesman said: “FIFA is unable to comment further on this topic until all legal matters are resolved.”

Contractual complications

Clearly legal complications exist because the rights to competitions such as the recent World Cup finals had been sold on to the Qatar channel BeIN which should be instigating a complaint of its own as the initial damaged party.

During the World Cup FIFA announced it had engaged local counsel to take legal action in Saudi Arabia to “combat the pirate entity named beoutQ, which continues its illegal piracy of 2018 FIFA World Cup broadcasts.”

However this has not deterred BeoutQ, which is reportedly broadcast off the Riyadh-based satellite operator Arabsat.

The latest victims have been revealed as the English Premier League and the French Ligue 1 whose opening weekends were pirated free of charge in the Gulf and north Africa.

The support of the European Commission has now been invoked by both leagues which have applied for the directorate-general for trade to investigate BeoutQ and demand pressure on Saudi Arabia to shut it down.

French league has also contacted Arabsat demanding that it prevents BeoutQ from using its satellites to distribute stolen content.

Last month Arabsat denied that its frequencies were being exploited by BeoutQ but the Qataris claim digital security proof to the contrary.

Intervention demanded

LFP executive director Didier Quillot said: “Last January we participated in the creation of the Association for the Protection of Sporting Programs (APPS) with the broadcasters, the professional leagues and the sports’ federal bodies.

“Pirate broadcasts attack directly at the economic heart of the sport and we must unite in our struggle against this practice. We ask Arabsat and Saudi Arabia to intervene to stop the piracy of our contents.”

BeIN has alleged ‘political motivations’ behind the creation and launch of BeoutQ arising directly out of the political and economic dispute between Qatar and the Saudis and their allies – notably the United Arab Emirates.

The Premier League said: “The Premier League has written to the European Commission as part of the Sports Rights Owners Coalition. This is just one of the measures we are taking to address this very serious issue. We operate a significant anti-piracy programme in a range of countries to protect the copyright of the league and our clubs.

“Like all content creators and rights owners, our business model is predicated on the ability to market and sell protected rights and we will take all available action to support the investment made in the league by our legitimate broadcast partners.”

Saudi protestations

In July the Saudi Ministry of Media welcomed FIFA’s announcement of local legal action against BeoutQ.

A ministry statement said: “[This action] will supplement the relentless efforts by the KSA Ministry of Commerce and Investment in combating BeoutQ’s activities and BeIN’s illegal broadcasting within the country. These efforts and others reinforce the Government of Saudi Arabia’s devotion to protecting intellectual property (IP) rights within KSA.

“While BeoutQ‘s pirate broadcasts have been available in KSA, we understand that its set-top boxes are also available in, and its pirate broadcasts are targeted at, other nations in the Middle East North Africa region (MENA), including Qatar and Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, irresponsible media reports have falsely and unfairly connected KSA with BeoutQ’s piracy.”

However any credibility sought by those sentiments was undermined by a later paragraph in the statement which said: “[Saudi Arabia’]  calls on FIFA (and other rights holders) to distance themselves from BeIN Sports and find alternative licensees for broadcasting sports in MENA. In KSA at least, Al Jazeera, BeIN Sports and their affiliates will never be permitted to broadcast again.”