NYON: European federation UEFA has stepped into the escalating row over the television piracy of major football tournaments by a Saudi-based channel writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

At a time when Saudi Arabia is seeking to gain greater influence over regional and international football politics, the operating presence of the BeoutQ channel is provoking an increasing backlash.

BeoutQ has been set up to undermine the BeIN channel, a rights-greedy subsidiary of Qatar’s Aljazeera, by a Saudi-led coalition which has been trying in vain to disrupt the operations of the tiny Gulf state.

This has included using BeoutQ – the clue is in the name – to pirate coverage of the World Cup in Russia despite what, so far, has been a weak protest by world federation FIFA.

UEFA has now joined the dispute by claiming that the pirate channel illegally distributed the Champions League and Europa League throughout the 2017-18 season.

FIFA has delicately tried to avoid confronting Saudi Arabia by mentioning the geopolitical connection. However UEFA has shown no such reluctance in pointing up the Saudi connection to the illicit broadcasting in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) zone.

A statement said: “UEFA strongly condemns all unauthorised broadcasting and illegal streaming activity. UEFA considers that illegal piracy of live football, particularly on the scale of that being carried out by BeoutQ poses a significant threat to European football.”

BeIN Sports is the exclusive MENA rights holder for UEFA club competitions.

The African football federation CAF has also criticised the BeoutQ action on the basis that it is damaging regional football finances.

CAF said: “An entity called BeoutQ has put in place a major piracy operation against beIN Media Group. In this regard, CAF strongly condemns the practice of the audiovisual piracy of sport events, a real scourge for our industry. CAF is determined to take all necessary against BeoutQ if any of CAF matches is pirated.”

The pirate channel has also been accused of stealing World Cup content from American broadcasters NBC Universal.

Late Thursdaay night the Saudi sports minister, Turki al-Sheikh, complained that UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin was a man “of many faces,” whom he had no wish to meet.

UEFA retorted: “UEFA was quite surprised by a tweet of @Turki_alalshikh, as the UEFA president has never heard of this person and he therefore would have no reason to meet him.”