Bengaluru/Doha, March 15: Doha-based media house beIN has accused the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) of breaching a multi-million-dollar rights deal by streaming its matches in Saudi Arabia online, escalating a feud over sports broadcasting rights in the Middle East.
The AFC had earlier said that it would start streaming AFC games involving Saudi teams playing in Saudi Arabia on its geo-blocked Facebook and YouTube digital channels so that Saudi fans could tune in.
It said the move would fulfil its commitment to promote its competitions "for the benefit of all our stakeholders".
beIN, which is owned by Qatar's wealthy businessman Nasser Al Kheliafi, who also owns the Ligue 1 football club Paris Saint-Germain, holds exclusive TV rights to the matches but has been barred from operating in Saudi Arabia since a Saudi-led economic and trade boycott of Qatar from June, 2017. Its signal is blocked in Saudi Arabia.
beIN CEO Yousef Al Obaidly said the AFC move was a "material breach" of its multi-million dollar regional broadcast agreement with the AFC.
"beIN would take immediate legal action "to recover damages and protect our position," he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
"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,"IstandWithQatar.org (@IstandWithQatar) March 14, 2019
- BeIN CEO Yousef Al-Obaidly pic.twitter.com/xijMLelikR
The Saudi-led bloc boycotting Qatar, which includes Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, accuses the tiny but wealthy Gulf state of supporting terrorism, which Doha vehemently denies.
The row has meant beIN has no on-pitch presence for matches in Saudi Arabia, once its top regional market, where AFC Champions League matches kicked off this month.
beIN has continued to broadcast Saudi-based matches with commentary from Doha. That has helped keep intact a $300 million deal for exclusive rights to eight seasons of AFC matches for the Middle East and North Africa through to 2020, according to a source familiar with the deal.
beIN did not disclose the value of damages it would seek but said the lawsuit would be raised at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre.
Several major sports bodies, including the AFC, Premier League and UEFA, have said they would take legal action in Saudi Arabia against television channel beoutQ, which has been illegally broadcasting global sporting events pirated from beIN.
Riyadh says beoutQ is not based in the country and that Saudi authorities are committed to fighting piracy.
The beoutQ channel is alleged to have aired pirated content from beIN feed for major events including the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and the 2018 FIFA World Cup held in Russia.
Both AFC and FIFA are running legal cases against beoutQ.
(With Agency inputs)