KUALA LUMPUR: A schism has opened up between the Asian Football Confederation on the one hand and world federation FIFA and European governing body UEFA on the other over the validity of television broadcasting rights in the Middle East and North Africa writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

The exacerbation of the dispute is a fall-out from the political, commercial and travel blockade being imposed upon Qatar by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and including the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar’s beIN Sports Media group has been protesting for the past two years that a Saudi-based pirate channel, beoutQ, has been pirating its exclusive rights coverage in the region of major sports tournaments including the World Cup, UEFA Champions League, Premier League and ATP tennis events.

Saudi authorities have turned a deaf ear to those complaints despite the support of FIFA UEFA, the Premier League and the ATP.

Thus far the AFC had stayed out of the row.

Now, however, it has taken the unilateral decision to end beIN’s exclusive rights over the broadcasting of Asian Champions League matches in Saudi Arabia

The decision against the Qatari broadcaster started with Tuesday’s Asian Champions League match between Saudi side Al-Hilal and Qatar’s Al-Duhail.

The Saudi federation said it had received a letter from the AFC stating that the Qatari network’s rights to broadcast the matches in Saudi Arabia had been cancelled. This was apparently based “on communications and legal reasoning that included BeIN’s ‘illegal broadcasting’ and the ‘systemic violations it committed against the Kingdom’s regulations.’”

This decision has been supported, mischievously, by neighbours Bahrain which is the home of the AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.

The Bahrain federation, which has fallen out with Sheikh Salman, said in a statement that it fully supported “the AFC’s decision to suppress the monopoly of sports channels for the Asian Games and competitions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on the basis of the information provided by the continental union and the legal reasons, including the illegality of beIN Sport broadcast in Saudi Arabia.

The Bahraini FA intended to take similar actions “based on the multiple violations of the beIN Sport channel in misusing publishing for political purposes.”

One issue at play concerns beIN’s rights deals with the AFC, which are valued at $300m.

Another, however, concerns the entire model of the financing of elite sport which is built on a money mountain provided by exclusive broadcasting rights.

If TV companies lose trust in sport’s ability to deliver the action as promised then the entire system is in danger – amd not only in the Middle East and North Africa.

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