Saudi Arabia moves to reassure rights-holders after WTO ruling

Saudi Arabian sports bodies have written to a number of international federations to stress their commitment to protecting intellectual property rights following last week’s ruling by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that the country had actively promoted and supported pirate broadcaster beoutQ.

In a letter to European football’s governing body, Uefa, seen by SportBusiness, Saudi Arabia Football Federation president Yasser Hassan Almisehal said that the country had a “responsibility to help fight piracy”.

He added: “Copyright piracy is a global issue that impacts many sports and rights-holders in many territories. It holds no place in sport and as a member association of the [world football governing body] Fifa, we fully understand the need to protect and respect intellectual property rights.”

Almisehal has reportedly written similar letters to the English Premier League, Fifa and the International Olympic Committee.

The Premier League, Fifa, Uefa, Spain’s LaLiga and German’s Bundesliga all submitted evidence against Saudi Arabia during the WTO investigation.

A group of eight major rights-holders, comprising Fifa, Uefa, the AFC and Europe’s top five football leagues, had previously tried and failed to take legal action against beoutQ in the Saudi Arabian courts.

Fifa, Uefa, LaLiga and the Bundesliga all publicly welcomed the WTO ruling, but the Premier League declined to comment. The latter is engaged in a protracted review of a controversial proposed £300m (€326.6m/$366.3m) takeover deal of Premier League club Newcastle United, which is led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

Damage limitation

The Saudi letters to major sports federations could be interpreted as a damage-limitation exercise after the WTO report published on June 16.

The intergovernmental body said that the country is in breach of the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips). This agreement stipulates minimum standards for how WTO member states regulate IP with regards to nationals of other WTO member states.

The report recommended that Saudi Arabia “bring its measures into conformity with its obligations”.

It also stated that Qatar, which brought the complaint to the WTO, has established that Saudi Arabia has not provided for criminal procedures and penalties to be applied to beoutQ despite the evidence establishing prima facie that beoutQ is operated by individuals or entities under the jurisdiction of Saudi Arabia.

BeoutQ has challenged the dominance of Qatari pay-television operator beIN Media Group and its beIN Sports premium channels. BeIN’s sports programming has been reproduced virtually in its entirety on the beoutQ platform.