Saudi minister and Uefa engage in Twitter dispute over BeoutQ

European football’s governing body Uefa has become embroiled in a spat with Turki Al Alshikh, head of Saudi government body the General Sports Authority, over the dispute between Qatar-based beIN Media Group and Saudi-based channel BeoutQ.

The dispute intensified via Twitter on Thursday evening, when Al Alshikh used the social media platform to embark on a lengthy criticism of Uefa, as well as beIN’s place in the sports rights market.

In recent weeks, a variety of stakeholders have intensified a campaign against BeoutQ, a pirate channel that has been broadcasting content produced by beIN and other broadcasters, including the ongoing Fifa World Cup in Russia.

Earlier this week, Telemundo, the Spanish-language arm of US media group NBCUniversal, said its broadcast of 2018 World Cup games have been illegally distributed in the Middle East and North Africa by BeoutQ. International sports broadcaster Eleven Sports also said that its live rights, which don’t include the World Cup, are being pirated.

Earlier on Thursday, Uefa issued a statement on the matter, directly pointing the finger at Saudi Arabia for allegedly enabling the operations of BeoutQ.

The statement read: “Uefa strongly condemns all unauthorised broadcasting and illegal streaming activity. We are aware that a pirate channel, named beoutQ based in Saudi Arabia, has illegally distributed the Uefa Champions League and the Uefa Europa League throughout the 2017-18 season, including the Uefa Champions League Final in Kiev on 26 May. Uefa considers that illegal piracy of live football, particularly on the scale of that being carried out by beoutQ, poses a significant threat to European football.”

Uefa added: “The protection of our Intellectual Property is key to Uefa and we will take the necessary steps to address the issue in order to enforce and protect the rights granted to beIN Sports, including through engaging with relevant satellite carriers in the region.”

In response, Al Alshikh suggested on Twitter that Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin was a man “of many faces,” whom he had refused to meet. The Uefa president “is trying to meet me, but I am telling him that I do not like to meet men of many faces,” he wrote.

Al Alshikh continued: “If you want to meet, you should have a clear stance on fair issues, including the monopoly and politicisation of sports by beIN Sports, which you force us to watch without taking into account the feelings of 30 million Saudi citizens and all the Arab countries' whose opinions and views had been disregarded.”

In response, Uefa issued the following tweet on its official account: “UEFA was quite surprised by a tweet of @Turki-alalshikh, as the UEFA President has never heard of this person and he therefore would have no reason to meet him.”

In a series of 10 tweets, Al Alshikh by contrast described Fifa president Gianni Infantino as “a dear friend for whom the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) and I hold a great respect.” Saudi Arabia is believed to be providing financial backing for a revamp of club and national team competitions led by Fifa, but resisted by Uefa.

BeIN holds exclusive media rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups across the Middle East and North Africa. The Saudi minister expressed his hope Fifa would “reconsider the TV broadcasting rights in the region.”

Al Alshikh said beIN was trying “to propagate and implement Qatar's government agendas,” adding that “much remains to be said about the World Cup 2022.”

Fifa, world football’s governing body, last week said it was considering legal action against parties connected to BeoutQ. BeIN last month stepped up its campaign to eradicate piracy of its sports broadcasts by making a request for Fifa to take legal action against Saudi-headquartered communications satellite operator Arabsat.

BeIN said that since last October, BeoutQ has been using a signal from Riyadh-based Arabsat to illegally transmit its broadcasts. It added that Illegal transmissions from BeoutQ had appeared in Morocco, Jordan and Syria, and it was likely they would soon reach Asia and southern Europe.