Qatar's beIN sports TV off air in UAE amid crisis and pirate claims
Thousands of football fans in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may be unable to watch the upcoming World Cup after Qatar-based beIN sports channels were pulled on Sunday.
At a time of ongoing political tension between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours, the company withheld broadcasts on the Emirati Du network earlier Sunday and later announced negotiations to resume airings of its content had failed.
Just 11 days ahead of the international tournament, the Qatari company has protested that its popular sports channels have been widely pirated in a sophisticated operation across the region, with pictures broadcast illegally by a company called beOutQ.
A deal to broadcast beIN sports channels was agreed with another Emirati satellite provider, Etisalat.
BeOutQ, a 10-channel system broadcasting to the Middle East on Arabsat is allegedly tapping beIN’s output, Advanced Television reported on its website.
Tom Keaveny, managing director of beIN, said last week: “The pirated signal is being transmitted by the Riyadh-based satellite provider Arabsat, whose largest shareholder is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Advanced Television reported.
BeIN cannot mount a legal action or challenge in Saudi Arabia because it cannot find a lawyer to file charges, Advanced Television said.
Earlier this week, beIN called on FIFA to launch legal action against those bootlegging their broadcasts in the region.
BeIN has exclusive rights to the World Cup, which starts on 14 June in Russia, and will broadcast all matches live across the Middle East.
On 30 May, Oman banned the import of decoders that would allow viewers to watch pirated versions of World Cup matches transmitted by beIN.
"The import of these decoders, called beOutQ, was banned because they violate the law on intellectual property," an Omani official said on condition of anonymity.
Anxious sports fans in the UAE took to social media to ask why their screens had gone blank.
A source with knowledge of the matter said the disruption had been caused by ongoing commercial negotiations, and had nothing to do with political tensions or pirating claims.
Pictures would be restored as soon as terms were agreed, added the source.
Du is one of two companies in the UAE showing beIN channels, the other being Etisalat.
A group of countries including the UAE cut all ties with Qatar on 5 June 2017, accusing Doha of supporting extremism and being too close to regional rival Iran. Qatar denies the allegations.
In the immediate aftermath of the crisis, beIN channels were blocked in the UAE, but were back on air by last July.