Sports — between politicization and piracy
The region’s dispute over broadcasting the FIFA World Cup games has nothing to do with revenue or sports.
Qatar paid a fortune, billions of dollars, for international sports contracts — and its objective in doing so was political.
It holds a monopoly over the sports-broadcast rights of 20 very poor Middle Eastern and North African countries.
There is no logical excuse for this. The country does not have a superior sports team, it does not seem interested in sports development, and it is not gaining enough revenue from broadcasting sporting events for it to be considered good business.
A regional monopoly over sports-broadcast rights of the kind that Qatar has obtained is banned in most countries and is clearly being done for political reasons. It is somewhat like Russian channels owning the rights to exclusively broadcast sports in the UK or the US — this is essentially the situation for Qatar and its neighbors.
Doha is using sports to convey subliminal political messages against certain governments, targeting 100 million Arab viewers in the region. This is also what its news channel, Al Jazeera, has been doing.
Al Jazeera, indeed, has a criminal history of broadcasting speeches and interviews featuring leaders of terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh.
This is not the first time the Qatari government has used sports broadcasting to serve its political agendas. It used to own Al Jazeera Sport but in 2011 it decided to buy the television network beIN Sports to disguise its bad reputation by changing the channel’s name from the former to the latter.
Most of the countries in the region, including Algeria and Tunisia, have complained about Qatar’s monopoly over sports-broadcast rights and are skeptical about the reasons behind it
One of the reasons why the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have severed relations with Qatar is that the latter has been using its TV channels to incite against them. A consequence was that Qatar’s companies, including beIN Sports, were banned from operating in these four countries.
It is common that whenever a TV service is banned in a certain country, alternative services emerge on the black market. Hundreds of TV streams for movies and sports reach the region in illegal ways.
The government of Qatar accuses the Saudi government of turning a blind eye to a company that hacks broadcasting rights.
In turn, the Saudi government accuses Qatar of using its TV channels to incite against the Kingdom. This accusation is not hypothetical; there is good evidence against beIN Sport that proves it is politicizing sports. The channel broadcasts comments and advertisements that promote the political stances of Qatar’s government and incite against its adversaries.
It is impossible for countries to allow governments with which they are in dispute to control sports broadcasts and incite against them.
Given this climate, we see how the international sports companies that own broadcast rights will exploit disputes for financial gain and huge profits, in the process violating their own laws that prohibit the politicization of sports, and disrespecting other countries’ rights by selling all the broadcast rights to Qatar.
Most of the countries in the region, including Algeria and Tunisia, have complained about Qatar’s monopoly over sports-broadcast rights and are skeptical about the reasons behind it.
Surprisingly, FIFA, UEFA and the participating national federations are keen to protect a Qatari-owned company from piracy, when the more serious issue is the country’s politicization of sports.
Qatar has bought these rights for large sums of money, borne enormous losses and denied other countries with which Doha is in dispute their right to buy the broadcast rights.
In addition to all that, and under the watchful eye of FIFA, beIN Sports dares to incite and launch political attacks against its adversaries.
Piracy is a common problem, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, and BeoutQ is not the only company pirating satellite signals.
Saudi Arabia, too, suffers from piracy. More than 90 percent of sportswear featuring the logos of Saudi clubs are fake replicas, and the value of such pirated products is estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars.
- Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed