Saudi Arabia denies pirating World Cup broadcast from Qatar

FILE PHOTO - Egyptian clients wait at one of the outlets of Qatari-funded beIN Sports channel in Cairo, Egypt June 12, 2018. Picture taken June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has denied accusations of pirating the broadcast of World Cup games for which Qatar-based beIN Sports network holds the regional rights.

Saud al-Qahtani, a senior adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, called the piracy charges "baseless" and "unfounded".

Last week, soccer's governing body FIFA accused television channel BeoutQ, whose pirating devices are widely available for purchase in Saudi Arabia, of illegally broadcasting the opening games of the World Cup.

FIFA said it was "exploring all options to stop the infringement of its rights, including in relation to action against legitimate organizations that are seen to support such illegal activities".

Global sports network beIN Sports is blocked in Saudi Arabia under a boycott the kingdom imposed on Qatar a year ago. Riyadh and Arab allies severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017 over its alleged support of terrorism. Doha denies the accusations and relations remain openly hostile.

Qahtani's comments were directed at Qatar rather than addressing FIFA's accusations, but he said the matter should be resolved by the sport's international governing bodies.

"These accusations are nothing but the latest attempt by Qatar to divert attention from their own malfeasance by pivoting discussion towards sports," he said in comments sent to Reuters late on Thursday.

"Qatari authorities have failed to provide any evidence at all to validate these accusations."

It is not the first time beIN, whose parent company beIN Media Group is run by Qatari businessman Nasser al-Khelaifi, has moved into the centre of the row between Doha and its neighbours. In the days since this latest spat erupted, Qatari officials have traded barbed comments online with supporters of Saudi Arabia.

The network, a major player in global sports broadcasting, operates in 33 countries, according to its website. Along with countries across the Middle East and North Africa, it also holds rights to broadcast the World Cup in France this year and in 2022, when Qatar is due to host the competition.

    BeoutQ could not be reached for comment. It is unclear who owns and operates the channel.

    Qahtani said Saudi Arabia did not tolerate any infringement of intellectual property rights.

"It respects the importance of protecting intellectual rights and abiding by international conventions in this regard," he said.

"The Saudi authorities will continue their efforts to combat piracy and protect intellectual property and broadcasting rights."

    He said the government had recently confiscated about 12,000 pirating devices from the market. Reuters could not independently verify this.


(Reporting By Stephen Kalin; Editing by Simon Robinson)