BeIN Sports suffers from Al Jazeera syndrome
What business does a TV sports channel have with the Palestinian cause or the boycott of Qatar? The answer is, none whatsoever.
That is why the Saudi Football Federation had every right to complain to FIFA, football’s world governing body, about the political commentary broadcast in Arabic on the Doha-based BeIN Sports channel.
And before anyone says Riyadh needs to lighten up and accept criticism, let me make it crystal clear that we are not talking here about the woeful performance of the Saudi national football team. A 5-0 defeat in the opening match of a World Cup deserves to be criticized, and this newspaper has done so — along with almost every other media outlet in the Kingdom.
No, this is not about football; it is about the heavily politicized comments that come with it on BeIN Sports in Arabic. Morocco lost its bid to host the 2026 World Cup, which is unfortunate for that country. But why would a football fan want to hear that “Saudi Arabia sold Morocco just like it sold the Palestinian cause”? Or listen to a Doha-based international footballer calling for an end to the year-long boycott of Qatar by the Anti-Terror Quartet?
No subscriber to ESPN in the US or Sky Sports in the UK would accept such comments, so why should we in the Middle East tolerate them on BeIN Sports — where we are entitled to expect a break from our gloomy news diet of bombs and bullets? This is especially true during the World Cup, an occasion people around the world eagerly await every four years to escape the daily grind and simply enjoy football at its very best. FIFA has strict guidelines about mixing politics and sport; the conduct of BeIN Sports Arabic clearly merits investigation, and the Saudi Football Federation is fully entitled to ask for one.
And before anyone says Riyadh needs to lighten up and accept criticism, let me make it crystal clear that we are not talking here about the woeful performance of the Saudi team. A 5-0 defeat in the opening match of a World Cup deserves to be criticized.
Faisal J. Abbas
I specifically mention BeIN Arabic because it is another Doha-based broadcaster that seems to suffer from “Al Jazeera Syndrome” — airing unacceptable material in Arabic that would never appear on its English-language channel, which is far more professional. None of the politicized commentary on BeIN Sports Arabic was heard on BeIN Sports English, just as none of Al Jazeera Arabic’s terrorist propaganda appears on Al Jazeera English.
Meanwhile the BeIN network, which has exclusive rights to show the World Cup on TV in most Middle East countries, complains about pirated broadcasts in Saudi Arabia, where BeIN Sports has been unavailable since the Qatari boycott began last June.
Curiously, Doha’s complaints are aimed only at Saudi Arabia. On the subject of Lebanon, where pirated BeIN World Cup broadcasts are freely available, and indeed where TV piracy is virtually a cottage industry, it is strangely quiet. And on the subject of Israel, where the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation bought the World Cup rights from FIFA and broadcasts a satellite signal available free of charge in Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, there is an equally deafening silence from Doha.
TV piracy is a whole other issue. Not only does it cost the Arab television industry an estimated $750 million a year, but Saudi Arabia is at the forefront in fighting it. Raids in the past month alone have resulted in the confiscation of 12,000 illegal devices for watching sports channels.
The best way for BeIN Sports to solve its Saudi piracy issue, if it has one, is to address the issue of its availability in the Kingdom. But it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, just like its World Cup commentary, this is more about politics than football.
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News.