Serie A to be watched for free on YouTube in the MENA region

The piracy dispute between Qatar's beIN Sports and Saudi Arabia has forced the Italian league to distribute five free matches per matchday
Empleados trabajan en una sala de control de transmisión en el estudio de beIN Sports que albergará la Copa Mundial de la FIFA 2022 en Doha, Qatar REUTERS/NASEEM ZEITOON

REUTERS/NASEEM ZEITOON  -   Employees work in a broadcast control room at the beIN Sports studio that will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar.

"Saudi Arabia actively promoted and supported piracy through the beoutQ platform". This is what the World Trade Organisation (WTO) noted in a report in June 2020. The investigation was led by FIFA and UEFA with the support of national competitions such as the Premier League, LaLiga and Bundesliga. They succeeded in proving that Arabsat, a public satellite company based in Riyadh, had provided the infrastructure to support illegal broadcasts on the beoutQ platform in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East.


Following the COVID-19 hiatus, beIN Sports (heir to Al-Jazeera Sports) decided not to broadcast the end of the 20-21 Serie A season in Saudi Arabia in protest against piracy. The Bundesliga also stopped broadcasting in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) for the same reason. beIN's head of sports, Richard Verow, argued that "our business plan is clear: we will only bid for rights at levels that make economic sense and have a value proposition". 

Miembros de una familia viendo el canal deportivo beIN de Qatar en su casa de Riad, la capital saudí AFP/ FAYEZ NURELDINE
AFP/ FAYEZ NURELDINE-Members of a family watching Qatar's beIN sports channel at their home in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

This conflict has been described in various international media as "the biggest robbery in the history of television". The beoutQ signal is accessible with a set-top box and already offered the 2018 World Cup in Russia in its entirety. Since then, it has been broadcasting all matches of the main European football leagues as well as other sports and entertainment content from beIN Sports. They do not treat the image to avoid the logo, they simply place their fly over the content they are broadcasting at the time. 


Justice is slow and beIN Sports is trying to protect its broadcasts as best they can, but the root of the problem goes all the way back to Saud al Qahtani, one of Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman's closest advisors. The beoutQ mastermind was removed from the public eye after being implicated in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. All this makes it very difficult for there to be free competition in the area to broadcast sports content.

Estudios de beIN TV Network en Doha. Arabia Saudí ha cancelado definitivamente la licencia de la cadena qatarí beIN Sports, que ha estado en el punto de mira en medio de una disputa que estalló hace tres años entre los dos países del Golfo. REUTERS/NASEEM ZEITOON
REUTERS/NASEEM ZEITOON-BeIN TV Network studios in Doha. Saudi Arabia has definitively cancelled the licence of Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports, which has been in the spotlight amid a dispute that erupted three years ago between the two Gulf states.

The latest victim of the dispute is the Italian league. No operator has bid for the rights in the MENA region and the competition will be watched for free on YouTube where fans will be able to enjoy the five most interesting matches with commentary in Arabic. Milan, Inter and Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus are the most followed teams and the ones that will be guaranteed a weekly slot. 

Added to all this controversy is the relationship between the Lega Nazionale Professionisti (LNP) and Saudi Arabia for the Italian Super Cup in recent years. This agreement has not been to beIN's liking either because it fuels piracy in the area and thus justifies not bidding for the rights to the competition and the television blackout. 

El presidente de la Federación Española, Luis Rubiales, a la izquierda, y el presidente de la Autoridad Deportiva General saudí GSA AP/AMR NABIL
AP/AMR NABIL-Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales, left, and the president of the Saudi General Sports Authority GSA.

In Spain, the conflict has not yet affected the competition, but it should be remembered that Luis Rubiales' RFEF also has an agreement with Saudi Arabia to play the Spanish Super Cup in that country. The 2019 edition was played and the 2020 edition was suspended due to the coronavirus crisis. It is expected to resume in 2022 because the economic return is important for the federation.