14 March 2019Copyright

AFC cancels beIN’s exclusive football rights in MENA region

Qatar-based broadcaster  beIN Sports is set to launch a “major international legal challenge” against the  Asian Football Confederation (AFC) after it pulled out of a licensing deal with the company.

The AFC  announced on March 12 that it would live stream Asian Champions League matches involving Saudi clubs for free on its own digital channels for users in Saudi Arabia.

In a statement, the AFC said that it was “committed to protecting the rights of its commercial and broadcast partners and to tackle attempts to illegally exploit those rights wherever it occurs”.

“To help achieve this aim, the AFC will stream the 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 organisation said.

beIN, which was formerly the sports broadcasting arm of TV network Al Jazeera, had been the exclusive owner of the broadcast rights for the competition in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

The move was  announced first by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) on Tuesday, 11 March. In the statement, SAFF said it welcomed the breaking of beIN’s “monopoly”.

According to SAFF, the AFC sent the Saudi federation a letter in which it outlined its reasons behind the decision. These included beIN’s “inability to obtain the required licenses necessary for it to fulfill its commitments in transmitting AFC’s competitions to the viewers and followers” in Saudi Arabia.

beIN hit back in a  statement, saying the AFC had “surrendered to illegal Saudi pressure”. The news comes amid a dispute over the alleged theft of beIN’s content by beoutQ, a streaming service that Qatar says is backed by the Saudi government.

“In caving into Saudi Arabia’s illegal actions against beIN and effectively endorsing Saudi Arabia’s notorious ongoing piracy operation beoutQ, the AFC is not only in material breach of its multi-million dollar broadcast agreement with beIN, but its actions threaten the business model that sports rights holders all around the world rely on”, beIN said.

Yousef Al-Obaidly, CEO of the broadcaster’s parent company beIN Media Group, said that there was now “no guaranteed protection of intellectual property in the region” in the wake of the decision.

Al-Obaidly added that the AFC had effectively endorsed “Saudi Arabia’s theft of world sport and wholesale disregard for the international rule of law”.

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