The World Trade Organization has ruled Saudi Arabia failed to stop a broadcasting operation pirating sports coverage and blocked moves to shut it down in a proxy of the Gulf economic and diplomatic dispute with Qatar.
The Qatar-owned beIN Sports network, which is banned from operating in Saudi Arabia, holds the Middle East rights that are being pirated by beoutQ.
“The panel considers that Qatar has established a prima facie case that beoutQ is operated by individuals or entities subject to the criminal jurisdiction of Saudi Arabia,” the WTO said on Tuesday.
Champions League organizer UEFA said the piracy threatens the “existence of professional sport as we know it.”
Rights holders, including FIFA and the English Premier League, have been trying to shut down the beoutQ bootlegging operation for more than two years to protect their commercial value. The WTO decision comes as the Premier League decides whether to approve a takeover of northeast English club Newcastle by the Saudis sovereign fund.
A WTO dispute panel established Saudi Arabia failed to take action to stop beoutQ’s operations and protect the intellectual property of rights holders.
“Qatar has established that Saudi Arabia has not provided for criminal procedures and penalties to be applied to beoutQ despite the evidence establishing prima facie that beoutQ is operated by individuals or entities under the jurisdiction of Saudi Arabia,” the WTO concluded.
The panel highlighted how beIN was prevented from hiring lawyers in Saudi Arabia to take action in the courts against the piracy.
Saudi authorities declared beIN illegal as the nation launched an economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar in 2017 alongside the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain over accusations Doha supports extremism. The tiny, super-rich nation of Qatar denies the charge.
The Premier League was among sports competitions to lodge protests with the American government which led in April to Saudi Arabia remaining on a “Priority Watch List” as one of the “notorious markets for counterfeiting and piracy.”
It is a stumbling block to the Premier League approving the Saudi Public Investment Fund buying an 80% stake in Newcastle as part of a takeover alongside the wealthy British-based Reuben brothers and financier Amanda Staveley. They want to buy out retail entrepreneur Mike Ashley.
UEFA said it was clear beoutQ’s broadcasts of its games were illegal.
“BeoutQ was hosted on frequencies transmitted by Arabsat and was promoted and carried out by individuals and entities subject to Saudi Arabia’s territorial jurisdiction,” UEFA said in a statement. "Those seeking to follow beoutQ’s example should be in no doubt that UEFA will go to great lengths to protect its property and support its partners, whose investment in football helps it to remain the world’s most popular sport from grassroots to elite level.
“Piracy not only threatens that investment but also the existence of professional sport as we know it.”
Associated Press Writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.
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Rob Harris, The Associated Press