JEDDAH: Negotiations between the General Sports Authority (GSA) and FIFA to allow coverage of the World Cup in the Kingdom, a Saudi Arabian sports official has told Arab News.
The Middle East rights to show the tournament are held by Qatar-owned beIN Sports, which is not authorized to air in Saudi Arabia. But with the big kick-off just four days away FIFA is under pressure to find a solution which will allow Saudi football fans to watch the Green Falcons’ progress in Russia.
The hope is that Saudi Arabia will be able to air 22 World Cup clashes, including all of Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side’s Group A matches. The Arab News source revealed that the final deadline to find a solution is tomorrow.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg in Zurich, GSA chief Turki Al-Shaikh accused Qatar of backtracking from a FIFA-brokered deal to let the Kingdom air the opening and closing games as well as 20 other encounters for $35 million. He said details of the agreement had been relayed by FIFA officials. But the Qataris, who later met with FIFA and Saudi Arabian representatives at the FIFA headquarters this month, said agreement had not been reached on the sum.
“Saudi Arabia has shown good faith” Al-Shaikh said.
The Green Falcons face hosts Russia in the opening match of the tournament in Moscow on Thursday. It is the first time the side have been in the World Cup for 12 years, with hopes and excitement high. But that has all been seemingly dealt a knee-high tackle by the dispute.
And many Saudis are understandably upset.
“I am annoyed an disappointed at the political interference in sport,” Abdullah Al-Hudaithi told Arab News.
“This World Cup is the biggest sporting event for the country in a long time and everyone should be able to watch it free of charge, let alone having to pay for it.
“There are black market alternatives but a lot of people stand to miss out on watching Saudi Arabia at the World Cup. It’s a shame and I am disappointed.”
That view was echoed by Pat Janssen, CEO of Al-Shabab, who said the dispute was getting in the way of a big sporting moment for the country. "Of course, the people in Saudi Arabia have to see the World Cup,” he told Arab News.
“This is a country that lives and breathes football like I've never seen. “The fact that there may be limitations from BeIn Sports is a big shame, a huge shame. Remember, apart from the final, the opening game is the most watched after the final. Fans in Saudi Arabia need to see it. They deserve it.”
One leading commentator has called on FIFA to find a solution so fans such as Al-Hudaithi can watch their beloved side take on the world’s best, such is the importance of the World Cup.
“Economics and politics aside, mega-events such as the World Cup are so important to national and international well-being and self-esteem, that it is vital as many people as possible get the opportunity to watch the tournament,” Simon Chadwick, professor of Sports Enterprise at Salford University, said. “As such, FIFA needs to be decisive and assertive, it should not be cautious in feeling that it may need to take sides. In many respects, it is arguable that watching the World Cup is, in essence, a basic human right.”
Arab News asked FIFA for comment but did not hear back from football’s governing body.