DUBAI: The Saudi Football Federation has filed an official complaint to FIFA over the Qatar-owned BeIN Sports network’s use of World Cup broadcasts as a means of spreading political messages aimed at insulting Saudi Arabia and its leaders.
This falls within the network’s ongoing attempts to instigate hatred in the region, it said.
The federation said its complaint calls on FIFA to address the unacceptable abuse by the channel of its tools for politicizing the media. This was clear after the World Cup’s opening match between Saudi Arabia and Russia and contrary to the laws of the international federation, which stresses the need to exclude sport from politics.
The federation called on FIFA in its complaint to take severe sanctions against the Qatari channel and to abolish the rights granted to the network.
Meanwhile, some of the biggest names in Arab sport have signed a petition to protest against the “politicization” of World Cup coverage by the Qatar-owned broadcaster.
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.
Among the signatories are Egyptian national football player Ahmed Hassan, Al Arabiya’s Sports Editor Battal Al-Goos, and former Saudi national team captain Yousuf Al-Thunayan.
“The mixing of sport and politics is disgraceful and unethical behaviour, especially with regards to World Cup coverage by the journalists that are present at the channel,” Former Saudi Arabia national team player Khamis Al-Zahrani told Arab News.
“Anything that happens during the match should not leave the pitch, that's the limit. As Saudi supporters, we will always back the Saudi national team no matter the circumstances,” he added.
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 games. As fans, we are saddened by BeIN using its permission to telecast sports to transmit its political agenda, violating FIFA rules,” the petition read.
The petition website includes nine clips from BeIN Sports featuring pundits and presenters politicizing the match between Saudi Arabia and the host nation, Russia.
“Mixing sport and politics in this cheap way has been disgraceful and does not represent respectable Arabs,” Al-Zahrani, who played for Al-Ittihad, said, adding that, ““Hopefully, this petition will fulfil the expectations of all Arabs.”
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.”