Saudi Arabia has vowed to take legal action against Qatar-based beIN Sports, whose coverage is being watched by Saudi citizens who are following the national team at the World Cup.
The two nations are locked in a long-running feud over television coverage of the football tournament.
“Necessary legal action will be taken in relation to beIN wrongdoings against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its sports & officials, and for exploiting sports to achieve political goals,” tweeted Turki al-Sheikh, chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority, in the aftermath of the team’s 5-0 defeat to Russia in the opening match.
“This proves Saudi authorities' true stance when banning this network from airing on its soil.”
Necessary legal action will be taken in relation to BeIN wrongdoings against K.S.A, its sports & officials, and for exploiting sports to achieve political goals. This proves Saudi authorities' true stance when banning this network from airing on its soil. @fifacom_ar @FIFAcom— تركي آل الشيخ (@Turki_alalshikh) 15 June 2018
beIN purchased the rights for the World Cup throughout the Arabic-speaking Middle East and North Africa from FIFA. But the network is officially blocked in Saudi Arabia, along with its parent company al-Jazeera, due to a political blockade imposed on Qatar by other Gulf states last year.
FIFA administered talks to re-sell rights directly to Saudi Arabia for $35 million dollars broke down earlier this month. On the eve of the World Cup, the Doha broadcaster relented and offered to show at least 22 matches from Russia 2018 for free throughout the region – but Riyadh still won’t let through the Qatari broadcast.
So, if no one can watch beIN in Saudi Arabia, why are their officials complaining? According to reports, hundreds of thousands of Saudi households have hacked satellite boxes, and are still following the channel as the main source of Arabic-language broadcasts. Others have seen highlights uploaded to social media.
This was sufficient to incense local watchers over what was described on Twitter as “sarcastic” and “disrespectful” commentary during what was already a humiliating 5-0 defeat which forced the Saudi football federation to apologize.