Saudi sports chief lets rip at UEFA football officials on Twitter

#InsideSaudi

Turki al-Sheikh takes aim at Blatter, Platini, Qatar and the UEFA president in astonishing 10-tweet diatribe

Turki al-Sheikh has been a controversial figure in football (Reuters)
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Friday 22 June 2018 14:24 UTC
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Turki al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia’s under-pressure head of sports, has released a diatribe on Twitter against former world football officials, the president of UEFA, broadcaster beIN Sports and Qatar.

In a 10-tweet broadside, Sheikh took aim at Sepp Blatter, the former president of world football body FIFA, ex-UEFA president Michel Platini and Aleksander Ceferin, the current head of the European football organisation.

He also called on FIFA's current president, Gianni Infantino, to take action against Doha-based beIN Sports, the primary network showing coverage of the World Cup in the Middle East, which Sheikh accused of propagating and implementing the Qatari government’s agendas.

The attack came as Sheikh, the chairman of the Saudi sports authority, has found himself under increasing pressure, as he and national football team fail to live up to expectations at the World Cup.

After Saudi Arabia’s 5-0 defeat to Russia in the opening game of the World Cup, Sheikh released a video in which he chastised the team’s performance, complaining the players did not exert more than five percent of effort.

He was rumoured later to be planning to punish forward Mohammad al-Sahlawi, defender Osama Hawsawi and goalkeeper Abdullah al-Mayouf for their performances in Moscow, which the Saudi football association was then moved to deny.

Taking aim

Sheikh began the tweet storm by denying he had been dismissed from his role.

He said he was “pleased with what I saw when Qatari officials, the Muslim Brotherhood, Mullahs and those who sympathize with them were jumping for joy as they heard such rumors”.

Then he moved onto Blatter, the disgraced former head of world football who stepped down in 2015 amid a spiralling corruption scandal.

“If I were in his position, I would be ashamed of myself and drop out of sight completely,” Sheikh insisted.

Moving onto Platini, a Blatter ally who lost the presidency of UEFA as a result of the same scandal, Sheikh said people close to the former France midfielder were trying to arrange a meeting between the two, and was he “not honored to do so”.

“Platini walked out of the small door and is never supposed to come back again,” the Saudi official wrote.

Sheikh’s real ire seemed to be reserved for Ceferin, however, whom he did not deem to refer to by name.

The UEFA president is a man “of many faces”, Sheikh said, while claiming Ceferin was attempting to meet him.

In response, UEFA sent a tweet of its own, denying Ceferin even knew who Sheikh was.

Sheikh then said the European body deserves better leadership, which is able to “maintain its gains”.

Broadcasting displeasure

Sheikh has also taken issue with beIN Sports’ broadcasting rights, which have been caught up in the year-long diplomatic spat between Riyadh and Doha.

BeIN, the sports arm of Qatari state broadcaster Al Jazeera, has exclusive rights to show the World Cup and Champions League games in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia, which has banned Al Jazeera as part of a number of measures designed to bring Qatari policy in line with its own, has blocked beIN Sports from broadcasting in the kingdom.

Instead, a channel called BeoutQ has illegally broadcast World Cup and Champions League matches.

Last week, FIFA labelled BeoutQ a “pirate channel”. The world football governing body said takes it "takes infringements of its intellectual property very seriously and is exploring all options to stop the infringement of its rights".

Similarly, UEFA has said the “illegal piracy of live football, particularly on the scale of that being carried out by BeoutQ, poses a significant threat to European football".

In his tweets, Sheikh said Ceferin forces people to watch beIN “without taking into account the feelings of 30 million Saudi citizens and all the Arab countries’ [sic] whose opinions and views had been disregarded”.

Sheikh asked Infantino, FIFA's president, "a dear friend for whom the Kingdom and I hold a great respect", to reconsider beIN Sports’ broadcasting rights.

Attracting attention

Inevitably, the public protest has attracted the attention of fans of football and Middle Eastern politics on Twitter.

One person even tweeted that Sheikh should pretend to be dead because of how embarrassing the situation he put himself in was.

On the other hand, some expressed disbelief over UEFA head Aleksander Ceferin's claim that he did not know who Sheikh was, and said they thought Sheikh represented the views of the Arab people.

Sheikh is no stranger to controversy. In May, he stepped down as honorary president of top Egyptian football club al-Ahli because of tensions over his handling of the team's recruitment.

He also enraged Egyptian football fans by appearing to wish for the Pharaohs' star forward Mohamed Salah to miss the World Cup.

With Salah sustaining an injury in last month's Champions League final, putting his World Cup in doubt, Egyptians accused Sheikh of being behind the mishap.

Moroccan fans similarly have a dim view of the Saudi sports tsar, after his country failed to vote for Morocco's bid for the 2026 World Cup, reneging against Arab solidarity.

Sheikh was appointed head of Saudi sports in September 2017. Perhaps not coincidentally, at almost exactly the same time he treated himself to a $4.8m Bugatti sports car, documents seen by Middle East Eye revealed.