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BeIN to launch legal action against AFC for removal of Saudi rights exclusivity

Qatar-based beIN Media Group said on Tuesday it will take legal action against the Asian Football Confederation in response to the latter’s decision to strip it of exclusive broadcast rights in Saudi Arabia to AFC competitions.

“The AFC’s decision 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,” beIN Media Group chief executive officer Yousef Al-Obaidly said.

The AFC said earlier Tuesday that it will now stream matches involving Saudi Arabia teams played in Saudi Arabia in AFC competitions on its geo-blocked digital channels AFC Champions League Facebook Live and AFC YouTube.

The first match using this approach was Tuesday’s Champions League clash between Saudi Pro League club Al-Hilal and Qatar Stars League outfit Al-Duhail. However, the game was not geo-blocked and was available to view outside Saudi Arabia.

The AFC said its decision to remove beIN’s exclusivity in Saudi Arabia was necessary to help tackle the illegal exploitation of its content but did not explicitly state how its decision aligns with this aim.

The AFC had previously condemned Saudi-based pirate channel beoutQ for its broadcasts of the 2019 Asian Cup national team tournament held in the United Arab Emirates. The governing body accused beoutQ of illegally showing coverage of the competition.

The content to which beIN holds rights in the Middle East and North Africa has been lifted since 2017 by beoutQ.

The pirate channel was created shortly after the economic blockade imposed on Qatar by four Middle Eastern countries: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

BeIN has been unable to operate in Saudi Arabia for nearly 18 months as result of the blockade. It accused the AFC of operating in “apparent collusion” with the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, calling Tuesday’s decision “a clear political play with Saudi Arabia”.

BeIN’s Al-Obaidly argued that, ultimately, the AFC’s actions were self-harming.

“It will impact rights-holders across sports and entertainment around the world,” he said. “There is now no guaranteed protection of intellectual property in the region.”