Egypt Pulse

Gulf-Qatar crisis leaves its mark on sports

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Article Summary
Amid the ongoing diplomatic crisis between Qatar and a number of major Arab nations, the Qatari sports channel beIN has been banned in several countries.

Despite efforts by Qatar's Al Jazeera TV to distance its sports channel from the politics associated with the Al Jazeera brand — renaming the affiliate to beIN Sports several years ago — the channel has nevertheless been affected by the ongoing battle between Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on the one hand, and Qatar on the other, after these countries decided June 5 to cut ties with Qatar. The Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information decided to block the website of beIN Sports on June 12, while Bahrain's Ministry of Information banned on June 13 the import of beIN Sports receivers and stopped the sale and renewal of subscriptions to these sports channels.

Meanwhile, a number of Arab technicians, commentators, analysts and soccer stars have told beIN Sports they will not appear on its shows. Chief among these are Saudi commentator Fahd al-Otaibi, UAE commentator Ali Saeed al-Kaabi and former Egyptian soccer star Ahmed Hossam, known as Mido.

Saudi sports newspaper Sada reported in a press release that all Saudi sports commentators and analysts working for beIN Sports had revoked their contracts with the channel.

The Egyptian Football Association announced in an official statement June 6 that it boycotted and stopped dealing with the beIN Sports network. Meanwhile, Egyptian club Zamalek decided June 5 to prevent the channel from entering the club to cover any Zamalek event or conference.

On June 15, the Dubai Sports channels welcomed the UAE crew of analysts to work at Dubai Sports after having resigned from beIN Sports.

The issue was not limited to resignations and the boycotting of the beIN Sports channel. A number of soccer players from the countries that boycotted Qatar refused to give interviews to the Qatari sports channel. On June 12, the Argentinian coach of the UAE national team, Edgardo Bauza, refused to answer the questions of a beIN correspondent at a press conference held before the match between Thailand and the UAE. And the same day, Egyptian goalkeeper Essam el-Hadary removed the beIN Sports microphone at a press conference held following the match between Egypt and Tunisia.

On June 6, the Egyptian Sports Press Association, which includes all sports journalists, called on its members not to deal with any sports channels belonging to the Qatari regime. It asked them to refrain from appearing on its screens and to abstain from doing call-in interviews or subscribing to its channels.

The battle against beIN Sports went so far as to look for an alternative option. On June 12, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported that an Arab bloc was working to stop the Qatari beIN monopoly. The report said that there are decision-makers currently working to put an end to the current beIN monopoly of international and Arab soccer tournaments, and that the UAE and Egypt will form the backbone of this bloc with the participation of Saudi Arabia.

Rashid al-Amiri, the general manager of Dubai Sports Channel, told Asharq Al-Awsat June 12, “There is no escape from forming the Arab bloc in the face of the Qatari monopoly in 21 Arab countries. The time has come for decision-makers in these Arab countries to intervene in order to allow Arab viewers to watch soccer matches for free or at least at nominal prices, as is the case in Europe. The 21 Arab countries have the right to take legal action to defend the rights of their people, as European countries did by allowing their citizens to obtain this right through the European Court of Justice.”

In 2012, European countries lobbied for the inclusion of a clause that would allow each European country to broadcast matches deemed to be of national interest on open channels. Pressured by England and Belgium in particular, a regulation was set for the broadcast of all World Cup and major European matches on at least one open channel.

Saudi Arabia's Okaz newspaper reported June 14 that there is an intention to create a satellite union made up of top sports channels to cover major Asian, European and world championships by contracting world-class channels.

Hassan al-Mustakawi, a media and sports analyst, told Al-Monitor, “The satellite bloc that the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are trying to set up against beIN has missed the boat. BeIN has monopolized all the tournaments and this has been [to the detriment of] the Arab viewers. Confronting such a monopoly is no easy task as there are monopolistic contracts signed by the channel. Those countries should have established this satellite sports bloc without linking that goal to politics, as they only started countering the monopolization of beIN after their boycott of Qatar.”

Mustakawi added, “The positions expressed by some Egyptian players to boycott beIN will not affect the channel greatly, because the channel monopolizes many important soccer tournaments. But it will affect its media exclusivity.”

He called on the satellite sports bloc not to monopolize soccer championships out of respect for the Arab viewers.

Saudi Arabia took several steps to compete with the Qatari channel. In a June 18 statement, Mufleh al-Hafatah, the chairman of Saudi Media City, said that a new channel called PBS Sport will be launched to serve as the largest network of Saudi and Arab sports channels. With the beginning of the new season, there will be five channels, which will gradually grow to 11. The channel that will be launched soon, he added, will be free for viewers if allowed by international laws and will not be encrypted.

Politics and sports are intertwined, as political crises usually have some kind of impact on sports. And the crisis between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE has seemingly cast its shadow on sports and led to a siege of the country's beIN Sports channel.

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Found in: boycott, al jazeera, sports, world cup, contract, media, soccer, tv

George Mikhail is a freelance journalist who specializes in minority and political issues. He graduated from Cairo University in 2009 and has worked for a number of Egyptian newspapers.

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