Arab sport stars petition against ‘politicization’ of World Cup by Qatar’s BeIN

Some of the biggest names in Arab sport have signed a petition to protest against the “politicization” of World Cup coverage by Qatar-owned broadcaster BeIN. (Shutterstock)
Updated 18 June 2018

Arab sport stars petition against ‘politicization’ of World Cup by Qatar’s BeIN

DUBAI: Some of the biggest names in Arab sport have signed a petition to protest against the “politicization” of World Cup coverage by Qatar-owned broadcaster BeIN. 

The petition has already attracted more than 58,000 signatures, including those of some of the Arab world’s most prominent athletes and media personalities — with all calling for an end to the politically-driven comments carried by some of BeIN Sports’ hosts and pundits.

The website sports4everyone.org created the petition and invited fans around the world to urge FIFA President Gianni Infantino to investigate the coverage by the Qatari broadcaster’s Arabic channel.

Prominent sports figures, players, commentators and referees have all signed in protest after BeIN’s presenters and pundits were found to be intentionally making political comments in live coverage during and after the World Cup matches.

Among the signatories are Egyptian national football player Ahmed Hassan, Al Arabiya’s Sports Editor Battal Al-Goos, and former Saudi national team captain Yousif Althunaian.

BeIN Sports holds the rights to broadcast World Cup games across the Middle East and North Africa, although its channels are not available in Saudi Arabia, one of four Arab nations locked in a diplomatic dispute with Qatar over the latter’s alleged ties to terror groups. Doha denies the charges. 

“Sport rises above politics. FIFA tried to keep politics away from game. As fans, we are saddened by BeIN using its permission to telecast sports to transmit its political agenda, violating FIFA rules,” the petition read.

“BeIN exploited its rights to aggravate (the) dispute between Qatar and Saudi, insulting our nations during the opening match,” it added.

The petition website includes nine clips from BeIN Sports featuring pundits and presenters politicizing the World Cup’s opening match between Saudi Arabia and the host nation, Russia. The petition is available in ArabicEnglishGermanFrench and Spanish.

In one of the station’s broadcasts, a commentator accused Saudi Arabia of “selling out the Palestinian cause,” while in another the host suggested the Kingdom’s top sporting officials will become “prisoners at the Ritz-Carlton,” a reference to the detentions in Riyadh during last year’s anti-corruption drive.

Egyptian media analyst Abdellatif El-Menawy said BeIN had “distorted the global football event” by using it as a political tool against Saudi Arabia.

“This is an infringement of the rules and standards of professional media,” El-Menawy told Arab News on Saturday. 

“BeIN Sports has abandoned neutrality and professionalism,” he added, saying the network’s coverage after Saudi Arabia’s 5-0 defeat by Russia was “gloating” and “sarcastic.”

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, said the political differences between BeIN Sports’ Arabic and English services were similar to those between Al Jazeera’s news channels. 

The news service’s Arabic channel has “unprofessional and unethical” commentary that is not seen on the English station, Al-Shehri said at the weekend. 

Another commentator called the disparity between BeIN Sports’ Arabic and English offerings “Al Jazeera syndrome” — in reference to the different political stances held by the news network’s two main channels. 

Lawyers contacted by Arab News at the weekend called on FIFA to investigate the matter saying the international football governing body “will have to look into and should take very seriously.”

BeIN Sports could not be reached for comment. FIFA had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

BeIN broadcasts World Cup games across multiple countries, and it is not yet clear whether it has breached any regulations in any of those countries.  

But the UK communications body OFCOM said that, while it does not regulate BeIN Sports, there are strict rules covering impartiality concerning the broadcasters it does cover.

“With regards to those broadcasters we do regulate (including the BBC and ITV), we have strict rules in place regarding due impartiality and due accuracy, and undue prominence of views and opinions,” OFCOM told Arab News.

Global football commentators and sports journalists said that it was not right for broadcasters such as BeIN to mix football and politics. 

“Personally I don't make any remarks on politics or religion or whatever situation is going on. I only focus on football, mostly on analytic. This is my way. But I'm commentating in English - whatever is happening in Arabic I don't know,” said Pedro Correia, a freelance football commentator for Abu Dhabi Sports

"I keep it separate, I don't mention any kind of politics. It's my personal way of doing things. I just don't want to bring any politic or religious references into my work … I'm strictly about analysis, the football and what is going on on the pitch. I don't go political."

Journalist Lev Savari of Russia Today agreed, telling Arab News: “The World Cup should be free from people trying to use it to get some political benefit or say something negative about another country. Just enjoy the football.”

Sohail Sarwa, a journalist at The Daily Ittefaq in Bangladesh, said that there was “no reason” to mix sport and politics. 

“This is the World Cup and while we know that sports and politics can't be kept apart, we should try do as much as we can to keep the World Cup special,” Sarwa told Arab News. 


Hit play: Sports content takes on new life on social media

Updated 26 October 2020

Hit play: Sports content takes on new life on social media

  • Sport — along with related topics like fitness and health — is one of the top three categories on TikTok right now

DUBAI: Whether you are playing or watching, sports are best enjoyed in person. But with social distancing measures in place since earlier this year, like many other activities, sports have gone virtual.

In May, when ESPN aired the final two episodes of its Michael Jordan docuseries “The Last Dance,” 20 of the 30 trending topics on Twitter were related to it. That night saw more than 1.5 million tweets about the final episode, bringing the total volume of tweets about the series above 11 million. Even before the pandemic, in 2019, 22 percent of consumers were seeking sports content on social media — up 47 percent from just 2016.

In fact, sport — along with related topics like fitness and health — is one of the top three categories on TikTok right now. “In the last couple of months, we have built a concentrated community that started allowing us to engage with different pillars of fitness and health,” said Rami Zeidan, head of video and creative at TikTok. These pillars include everything from fitness motivation and health, lifestyle and workout tips to stunts and street performances, such as parkour and freestyle football.

A 2020 study in Saudi Arabia found that 73 percent of people on Twitter are football fans, with 85 percent of them using Twitter to follow along while watching a game on TV. The respondents also said that they use Twitter to follow the official accounts of players (27 percent), to check out the latest video clips (38 percent) and to view pre-match news and post-match analysis (28 percent). The football fandom on the platform is evidenced by the 91 million tweets related to the 2019-20 Saudi Professional League (SPL) season just this month.

According to recent research by Twitter, football is the most popular sport on the platform in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the SPL season was marked by a three-day Twitter campaign that was launched on Oct. 19 under the hashtag روح_الدوري# (“The League’s Spirit”). The first day of the campaign saw Twitter’s account in the Middle East invite comedians to share their takes on the best SPL commentary moments. These were shared through voice tweets, which add a more human dimension to conversations and which allowed the comedians to incorporate their own personal style in the commentary. Although the feature is currently being tested on iOS devices, everyone on Twitter is able to hear voice tweets and reply to them.

FASTFACTS

Sport and Social Media

- 73% of Twitter users are football fans.

- Sports is one of the top three content categories on TikTok.

- 520% more Instagram Live videos were produced from March-July 2020, compared to 2019.

The focus for the second day of the campaign was Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology. The comedians created their own VAR moments through humorous video content shared on the platform, which illustrated real-life scenarios in which VAR could come in handy — for example, to settle a challenge between friends or to find out who really spilled the popcorn. “Fans have always turned to Twitter to be part of the action in real time. We’re seeing the passion and energy of the football stadium now surging online. Twitter is where fans, players, experts and leagues weigh in with a range of viewpoints. With humor being a key element of Twitter conversation in Saudi, the روح_الدوري# campaign brought levity to a much-anticipated event in the Kingdom,” said Kinda Ibrahim, director of media partnerships, Middle East and North Africa, Twitter.

More than 170 million people follow fitness-related accounts (e.g. weightlifting, cycling, yoga, etc.) on Facebook, and more than 120 million people follow similar accounts on Instagram. Based on an index of Facebook and Instagram’s top fitness partners, 75 percent more Facebook Live videos were produced during the months of March through July in 2020 as compared to 2019, while 520 percent more Instagram Live videos were produced during the same months as compared to 2019. These numbers have resulted in the company capitalizing on the rise of sports and fitness content by building a team to focus on fitness, introducing products to help fitness businesses build an audience and generate revenue, and planning a Fitness Summit, where Facebook will share the latest product tips and best practices with fitness organizations. 

Even for fans that consume sports content on more traditional media like TV, social media platforms are almost always a part of the experience as a second screen. For instance, Snapchatters in the US send Snaps and Chats to their inner circle (29 percent), watch friends’ Stories (28 percent), post their own Stories (20 percent) and check out Discover highlights and shows (26 percent) while watching sports. Moreover, approximately 30 percent want sports leagues to use Snap to go behind the scenes, share news and player interviews, and tap into augmented reality (AR) that recreates the sporting venues they cannot visit.

The Middle East and North Africa region is among the most socially active and engaged regions, as well as one that loves consuming sports content. Social media plays a huge role, whether it is for clubs like Al-Ahli, celebrities like Mo Salah or independent social media fitness star Walid Yari. And with 26 to 33 percent of people in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, South Africa and Egypt saying that they use social media to follow sports news and events, it is time for brands to start paying attention. The sports industry is already realizing the power of social media, but advancements in technologies such as AR, accelerated by post-pandemic digitization, present new opportunities for growth.