Qatari state-owned sports broadcaster beIN has asked Italy’s football league not to play a showpiece match in Saudi Arabia, accusing the country of backing the pirating of live coverage, and highlighting protests from human rights activists.
The staging of the Italian Super Cup in Jeddah next Wednesday has embroiled game organizer Serie A in the Saudi-led economic boycott of Qatar that has been in place for 19 months.
With beIN holding the Middle East rights to most major sporting events, viewers across the region are reliant on paying for subscriptions for Doha-originated telecasts. That has led to the network becoming a proxy in the regional diplomatic standoff stemming from accusations, which Qatar denies, that the super-rich state supports militant groups.
Evidence has been gathered by beIN claiming to show how Saudi-backed channels are ripping off their live action and inserting “beoutQ” branding over the Qatari logos, including for matches in Serie A where Cristiano Ronaldo plays for Juventus.
Global governing body FIFA is among football organizations backing its rights holder by pursuing legal action in Saudi Arabia. BeIN chief executive officer Yousef Al-Obaidly has written to Serie A counterpart Luigi De Siervo, who was appointed last month, to demand the Italian league “join the international sporting community’s fight against piracy by beoutQ.”
“Of all the countries in the world that you could have chosen to host your game, you have chosen the one country that is state-supporting the theft of your content on an industrial scale,” Al-Obaidly wrote in a letter sent Wednesday.
“If the game goes ahead, Serie A will have failed to uphold its duty to its member clubs and the wider sporting community […] whose intellectual property rights, and revenue streams, are threatened by beoutQ’s actions.”
Tickets for the game between Juventus and AC Milan at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium sold out in less than two days.
Al-Obaidly asked Serie A to reconsider “whether it is appropriate to proceed with the Super Cup match in Jeddah when other options remain available even at this late stage.”
There have already been calls for the match to be moved after the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. U.S. intelligence assessments and experts have said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who controls all levers of power in Saudi Arabia, likely ordered or at least knew about the killing. Saudi authorities say those who killed Khashoggi exceeded their authority.
In his letter to Serie A, Al-Obaidly “noted the increasing calls from many quarters … asking that you reconsider the venue,” citing Italian politicians, Amnesty International, journalist groups and “conscious sports fans.”
Qatar has also faced criticism over working conditions and rights for migrant workers in the buildup to its hosting of the World Cup in 2022.
There was no immediate response to requests for comment from Serie A and the Saudi government.
Organizers of the Asian Cup, which is currently being played in the United Arab Emirates, said on Wednesday they instructed lawyers in Saudi Arabia to take action to stop the beoutQ broadcasts. Rob Harris, AP