BeIN bows to pressure by opening up World Cup coverage

Qatar’s beIN Media Group has made 22 matches from the 2018 Fifa World Cup available via its free-to-air channels in the Middle East and North Africa following pressure over access to the national team football tournament from multiple markets in the region.

BeIN announced the move shortly before yesterday’s (Thursday’s) opening match of the tournament in Russia, which saw Saudi Arabia defeated 5-0 by the host nation in Moscow.

BeIN said the “landmark deal” represents a “clear statement and gesture of goodwill” by the broadcaster to offer its content to the widest possible Arabic audiences.

The free-to-air programming includes the opening ceremony and match, all group games involving Egypt and Saudi Arabia, together with additional coverage that will include selected quarter and semi-final matches and the World Cup final taking place on July 15 in Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow.

Nasser Al Khelaifi, chairman and chief executive of beIN Media Group, said: “Our region has some of the most passionate, dedicated and knowledgeable football fans in the world, and we are delighted to be able to open up access to the tournament to the multitude of fans who will tune in across the region over the coming weeks.

“This is the first time we have made our content so widely available as we realise how significant and unifying this tournament is for our region.”

Access to World Cup coverage has been a hot topic in the Mena region in recent weeks, most notably in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which has also qualified for Russia 2018. Earlier this week, the Egyptian Competition Authority launched action against Fifa, world football’s governing body, claiming the country’s terrestrial broadcasters were being denied coverage of the World Cup.

Egypt has qualified for this year’s tournament for the first time in 28 years. However, pay-television broadcaster beIN Sports had been the only legal means of viewing the tournament in the country. BeIN holds exclusive media rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups across the Middle East and North Africa. The ECA this week said it was seeking access to 22 matches.

Earlier this month, beIN said it had been unable to strike a sublicensing deal with Saudi Arabia for rights to the World Cup as the Kingdom claimed the broadcaster had backtracked on an agreement brokered with the aid of Fifa.

BeIN has been banned in Saudi Arabia since the dispute between Qatar and a host of its neighbours commenced last year. In an interview with the Bloomberg news agency in Zurich, Turki Al Alshikh, head of Saudi government body the General Sports Authority, last week accused Qatar of backing out of a deal to let the kingdom air the opening and closing matches, as well as 20 other games, for $35m (€29.7m).

The RapidTVNews website said that as part of yesterday’s announcement, beIN has also announced three additional sublicensing deals with national public-service broadcasters – in Morocco with Société Nationale de Radiodiffusion et de Télévision (SNRT), Tunisia with Establissement de la Radiodiffusion-Television Tunisienne (ERTT), and Lebanon with Télé Liban.

The Gulf Times newspaper added that the deal in Tunisia is currently only for group stage matches, but is likely to be extended should the national team make further progress in the tournament.