On 4 June the AIB reported that the Qatari pay-tv operator beIN, which owned exclusive rights to the FIFA World Cup 2018, was the target of what the network said was a widespread Saudi-backed piracy operation carried out through the beoutQ TV platform, an operation aimed at harming its services,  commercial interests and Qatar’s reputation..

All signs point to the fact that beoutQ was started soon after Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States (and Egypt) cut off diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar in June 2017.

In August 2017 beIN, together with leading sporting organisations and broadcasters, called for beoutQ to be shut down.

The situation has evolved and drawn in a number of other actors since the AIB first reported the story.

FIFA said on 15 June that it “is aware that a pirate channel named beoutQ has illegally distributed the opening matches of 2018 FIFA World Cup™ in the MENA region. FIFA takes infringements of its intellectual property very seriously and is exploring all options to stop the infringement of its rights, including in relation to action against legitimate organisations that are seen to support such illegal activities.”

Three days later beIN announced that it was making available 22 FIFA matches on free-to-air channels games across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in a move probably meant to undercut beoutQ.

UEFA, the European football governing body, waded in on 21 June, warning that illicit broadcasts of some of its top matches of the past season posed a significant threat to European football. UEFA clearly blamed beoutQ for the action and unequivocally indicated that the platform was Saudi-based.

[im]plausible deniability and legal tussle…

Ever since beIN asked for beoutQ to be shut down, the operator claimed that its backers were a Colombian and Cuban consortium and Middle Eastern investors. Saudi Arabia has denied any connection with beoutQ, which, however, was available via Saudi-controlled Arabsat.

Saudi Arabia is now going on the offensive. Turki Al Sheikh, the head of Saudi Arabia’s sports authority, said on Twitter that “Necessary legal action will be taken in relation to BeIN wrongdoings against KSA [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia], its sports & officials, and for exploiting sports to achieve political goals (…)”

… and beyond MENA

In recent days more operators, broadcasting outside the MENA region, complained that beoutQ was pirating their live exclusive sports rights.

NBCUniversal Telemundo, which holds the Spanish-language rights to the 2018 World Cup in the US, and UK-based Eleven Sports Network told Bloomberg that they would take the appropriate course of action to protect their rights.

However, it remains to be seen whether FIFA will take decisive steps against beoutQ [and its alleged Saudi backers] since Saudi and UAE investors (most supporting measures against Qatar) said they would back a $25bn plan to create global football tournaments for FIFA.

Besides, rather bland FIFA statements and photos taken at the opening match of the 2018 World Cup showing FIFA President Gianni Infantino sitting next to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, tend to suggest that FIFA is unlikely to act decisively against beoutQ (and its alleged Saudi official backers)…

For additional AIB background on this developing story click here

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