BeIN Sports is set to launch an immediate legal action against the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in response to the cancellation of the Qatar-based broadcaster’s rights to Asian soccer tournaments in Saudi Arabia.
The pay-TV provider has responded to what it describes as an ‘extraordinary announcement’ by the AFC outlining the governing body’s plans to use its own digital channel to stream its rights properties to Saudi viewers.
On Tuesday morning it emerged that the AFC had ended BeIN’s rights contract in a letter sent to the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF), with the national body also publishing allegations that the broadcaster had committed ‘grave violations of the laws and regulations’.
In a statement, BeIN claims that the AFC has surrendered to ‘illegal Saudi pressure on its official broadcaster’ and, in doing so, has unilaterally breached BeIN’s regional rights deal in what its deems to be ‘apparent collusion’ with the SAFF, with BeIN chief executive Yousef Al-Obaidly describing the intervention as a “clear political play with Saudi Arabia”.
BeIN, which has been a broadcast partner of the AFC in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) for almost ten years, brought a US$1 billion international investment arbitration against Saudi Arabia last October, as part of its ongoing fight against piracy in the region.
The broadcaster is claiming that the state unlawfully forced BeIN out of the country 18 months ago, with pirate broadcaster BeoutQ having since carried illegal streams of its sports content for more than a year.
- AFC cancels BeIN Sports rights in Saudi Arabia
As part of its announcement, the SAFF cited an ‘inability to obtain the required licenses’ as a factor to AFC’s decision, and also appealed to all international soccer federations to ‘take similar measures’.
In return, BeIN said that the confederation’s move ‘undermines the central condition of its regional broadcast agreement’ – namely the grant of exclusive rights. The broadcaster believes the AFC will stream BeIN’s formerly held content via the confederation’s Facebook and YouTube channels as part of a geo-blocked service.
Al-Obaidly, BeIN’s chief executive, said: “The AFC’s decision to live stream directly into Saudi Arabia on the AFC’s own digital platforms is a material breach of our multi-million dollar regional broadcast agreement and we will immediately be launching a major international dispute to recover damages and protect our position.
“The AFC’s decision is not only a self-harming commercial decision and a clear political play with Saudi Arabia, but most damagingly it will impact rights holders across sports and entertainment around the world.
“There is now no guaranteed protection of intellectual property in the region due to the AFC in effect endorsing Saudi Arabia’s theft of world sport and wholesale disregard for the international rule of law.”
Despite the AFC’s decision to annul its rights deal with BeIN, the broadcaster says it will continue to broadcast all of its rights in Saudi Arabia, including all AFC tournaments and matches across the MENA.
Last month, BeIN called on the US Government to place Saudi Arabia on the Priority Watch List over the piracy issue.―Sports Pro