KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- World football may soon come to the reluctant conclusion that the suspension of Saudi Arabia from the international game is the only way to resolve the television rights piracy row.

A joint statement from the world federation, European governing body UEFA, the Asian confederation and major European leagues has  expressed their growing frustration with the Saudi-based channel beoutQ to rip off football broadcasting rights across the Middle East and north Africa.

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The beoutQ operation is a strand of the economic and political blockade of neighbouring Qatar undertaken by a Saudi-led coalition including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Its target is the highly successful beIN Sport channel which was created as a subsidiary of the Qatari-owned Aljazeera broadcaster and bought TV  football rights across the MENA region.

The piracy has seen beoutQ grabbing broadcast signals from major international competitions such as the FIFA World Cup, UEFA Champions League, AFC Asian Cup, English Premier League as well as French, German, Italian and Spanish  championships.

Coverage of the Wimbledon tennis championships was also thieved and beIN, which claims 55m million pay-TV customers worldwide, ended its five-year contract with motor racing’s Formula One over the issue.

Sports federations thus fear that TV rights pirating, if allowed to go unchecked, would undermine the financial system of not only football but all international sport.

A complaint has been registered with the World Trade Organisation but an attempt to take legal action in Saudi Arabia has failed because no local law firm is prepared to take on the case.

Hence the football bodies statement concluded: “We request that the Saudi ministry of culture and the Saudi government take swift and decisive action against beoutQ.”

Clearly, since this is a political issue and the Saudi state is the largest shareholders in the satellite operator Arabsat, such a request will fall on deaf ears.

The only realistic threat FIFA can raise would be for its lawyers to delve into the world body’s own statutes – in particular perhaps the clauses concerning state interference – and find a formula blaming the Saudi football authorities for failing to use their best endeavours in defence and support of the world game.

The statement:

Joint statement by FIFA, the AFC, UEFA, the Bundesliga, LaLiga, the Premier League and Lega Serie A regarding the activities of beoutQ in Saudi Arabia:

We, the rights holders of various football competitions, collectively condemn in the strongest possible terms the ongoing theft of our intellectual property by the pirate broadcaster known as “beoutQ” and call on the authorities in Saudi Arabia (KSA) to support us in ending the widespread and flagrant breaches of our intellectual property rights taking place in the country.

Since May 2018, we have collectively been working with an international legal counsel to monitor and compile evidence against beoutQ, whose broadcasts are regularly and on an industrial scale made available on an illegal basis. Following thorough analysis by technical experts of how beoutQ operates from a technical perspective, we are satisfied that beoutQ is operating specifically to target customers in KSA and is utilising the facilities of at least one KSA-based entity.

Over the past 15 months, we spoke to nine law firms in KSA, each of which either simply refused to act on our behalf or initially accepted the instruction, only later to recuse themselves.

As copyright holders we have reached the conclusion, regrettably, that it is now not possible to retain legal counsel in KSA which is willing or able to act on our behalf in filing a copyright complaint against beoutQ. We feel we have now exhausted all reasonable options for pursuing a formal copyright claim in KSA and see no alternative but to pursue beoutQ and a solution to this very serious problem of piracy by other means.

beoutQ’s infringement of our rights inevitably harms every aspect of the industry, from the rights holders to legitimate licensees, consumers and fans, participants (including players, clubs and national teams) and ultimately, the sport itself.

We have welcomed previous statements by the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information and the Saudi Government against beoutQ. However, given the scale of beoutQ’s piracy in KSA and that the piracy continues unabated, we request that the Ministry and the Saudi Government take swift and decisive action against beoutQ.

We are committed, collectively and individually, to working with all relevant authorities to combat the beoutQ piracy.