8 October 2021CopyrightAlex Baldwin

Saudi Arabia to lift four-year ban on beIN Sports

Saudi Arabia is set to lift its four-year ban on Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports, bringing an end to a drawn-out dispute over illegal streaming of Premier League football matches.

The Qatari-based broadcaster beIN held exclusive rights to broadcast Premier League matches in Saudi Arabia, but the state barred it from broadcasting in the region in 2017 amid a quarrel between Riyadh and Doha.

While the situation was resolved in January, beIN’s broadcast ban remained in place until Wednesday when Saudi Arabia approached beIN to settle and lift it, Reuters reported.

This news paved the way for a Saudi-led consortium to acquire ailing Premier League club Newcastle United, the League confirmed yesterday.

Concerns over the state’s restrictions on Qatari IP holders, including beIN Sports, as well as the Kingdom’s alleged human rights abuses, had prevented the Premier League from signing off the deal.

The consortium, led by Saudi Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), withdrew its £305 million bid for the club last year. But following the news that Saudi Arabia would lift its four-year broadcasting ban on beIN Sports—a key Premier League broadcaster partner at rights holder—talks resumed.

Sanctions and settlements

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia imposed a slew of restrictions against Qatar, citing national security concerns.

According to a report from the World Trade Organisation (WTO), these measures “impacted, inter alia, the ability of Qatari nationals to protect intellectual property rights in Saudi Arabia. The multiple Qatari companies severely impacted by these measures include beIN Media Group LLC and affiliates”.

beIN had acquired numerous licenses to broadcast major sporting events in the region, including Premier League matches, National Football League games, and Major League Baseball. It also held exclusive rights to broadcast these events in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Kingdom blocked beIN Media from enforcing its IP, broadcasting, or streaming in the country, enabling pirate sports broadcasters to take the reins as the main providers of sports content in the country.

Saudi Arabia did not impose criminal sanctions against these broadcasters, including pirate broadcaster beoutQ, which would sell set-top boxes and IPTV applications to Saudi citizens while beIN was barred from operating.

In a lengthy report on the situation, the WTO said Saudi Arabia’s concern over national security did not justify the lack of criminal sanctions against beoutQ and claimed that the state had fallen short of its TRIPS Agreement obligations.

‘Clear separation’

Yesterday, the Premier League released an official statement that it had settled the dispute over the takeover, allowing the club to be sold to the Saudi consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The Premier League was also assured that there was a clear separation between the Saudi consortium and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which remained a key barrier preventing the deal from closing.

“All parties have agreed the settlement is necessary to end the long uncertainty for fans over the club’s ownership,” the league said.

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More on this story

31 July 2020   The failure of Saudi Arabia’s proposed takeover of Premier League club Newcastle United has been hailed as a “massive day for the protection of IP rights”.
24 April 2020   Qatari broadcaster beIN Media wants the Premier League to block the mooted takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, citing piracy concerns.
15 March 2022   In a loss for Qatari broadcaster beIn Sports, a Swedish court has reversed the sentences of three men found to have infringed its content, finding that Qatar was not a signatory to an international treaty at the time of the alleged IP violation.