LONDON (AP) — European broadcaster Eleven Sports has asked for the Italian Super Cup not to be played in Saudi Arabia next week, blaming the kingdom for hosting streaming services that pirate live sports feeds to undermine a Qatari state network.
The beoutQ channels allegedly being broadcast out of Saudi Arabia are a sign of how the Saudi-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar has extended its reach into television rights.
Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports holds key live rights to sports across the region that air on subscription channels, and it has reported beoutQ for stealing its feeds.
Eleven Sports, the streaming service which is owned by Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani, wrote to Serie A's leadership to say beoutQ is becoming increasingly available on the continent — causing "irreparable harm" to its business as the rights holder for Italian soccer in Britain, Belgium, Poland and Luxembourg.
Italian champion Juventus and AC Milan are due to play on Wednesday at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.
"The staging of this match in Saudi Arabia serves only to reward a country that has done nothing to combat the continued presence and operation of the beoutQ service from within its borders," Eleven Sports general counsel Andrea Cerroni wrote to Serie A chief executive Marco Brunelli in a letter last month that was obtained by The Associated Press on Friday. "The message this sends to the authorities in Saudi Arabia, to the pirate services operating from the territory and to all those legitimate broadcasters dealing with this daily assault on their rights, is that Serie A is unconcerned by such activity and even seems happy to reward it.
"This decision will drastically damage the ongoing efforts of the entire sports industry to combat and end this hugely disruptive, illegal and damaging piracy. We strongly urge you to reconsider the decision to stage this match in Saudi Arabia."
The request mirrors demands from beIN in a letter to Serie A this week that the game, set to feature Cristiano Ronaldo for Juventus, should not go ahead in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has not responded to an email seeking comment. Serie A said it would not comment.
Evidence gathered by beIN on the Saudi pirating has led to legal cases being pursued by FIFA and other soccer competition organizers but not by Serie A.
"The decision to stage such a significant match in Saudi Arabia has considerable implications for Eleven Sports and for the longer term value of Italian football rights," Cerroni wrote. "As has been widely reported, the pirate service 'beoutQ' operates its streaming services out of Saudi Arabia, in the full knowledge of the Saudi Arabian authorities. This service is available throughout the Middle East region and is now increasingly available throughout Africa and even within Europe and the USA, where Eleven Sports operates a number of its own, legitimate services."
Italian politicians and human rights activists have also objected to the game being played in Jeddah, citing the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi authorities say the killers of Khashoggi, who wrote commentaries critical of the government, exceeded their authority.
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