By Anthony Harwood London Correspondent
*Saudi-based TV channel illegally transmitting Champions League and Europa League matches
*Rights to the broadcasts are owned by Qatar-based beIN Sports
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has called pirate broadcasts of its most prized European matches being pumped out of a Saudi Arabia-based TV station a ‘significant threat to European football.’
In a hard-hitting statement Europe’s governing soccer body said it was prepared to take action against beoutQ which for months has been illegally transmitting the Champions League and Europa League.
The rights to the broadcasts are owned by beIN Sports, based in Qatar, with whom Saudi Arabia has cut off all trade.
It said: "UEFA strongly condemns all unauthorised broadcasting and illegal streaming activity. We are aware that a pirate channel, named beoutQ based in Saudi Arabia, has illegally distributed the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League throughout the 2017/18 season, including the UEFA Champions League Final in Kiev on 26 May.
"UEFA considers that illegal piracy of live football, particularly on the scale of that being carried out by beoutQ, poses a significant threat to European football".
Football’s governing bodies, who make hundreds of millions of pounds from selling exclusive rights to the events, fear those who pay for them could try and claw some of the money back if pirate stations are distributing their material for free.
The statement went on: "The protection of our Intellectual Property is key to UEFA and we will take the necessary steps to address the issue in order to enforce and protect the rights granted to beIN Sports, including through engaging with relevant satellite carriers in the region.
"For the avoidance of doubt, beoutQ has received no rights whatsoever from UEFA to broadcast any UEFA event."
beoutQ is broadcast by the Riyadh-based station, Arabsat, in which Saudi Arabia is the largest shareholder.
Last Friday FIFA issued a similar threat to beoutQ warning it not to continue its illegal broadcast of the current World Cup. But so far that has been ignored and every minute of every game continues to be shown.
Amid the flurry of publicity surrounding the FIFA statement beoutQ brazenly told its viewers: "Don’t worry – leave us in the driving seat and enjoy the games".
And when beIN Sports put a ticker-tape feed across the bottom of the screen informing beoutQ viewers they were watching stolen footage, the Saudi station simply superimposed its own message over that.
The piracy operation began after Saudi Arabia stopped trading with Qatar last June when it launched a diplomatic and transport boycott of the tiny Gulf state accusing it of cosying up to Iran and supporting terrorism, which Doha denies.
The Riyadh government banned the sale of beIN broadcast boxes and stopped existing customers form renewing subscriptions.
Instead, it began pirating the Qatari channel so its sports fans would not miss out.
beIN has spent millions of pounds trying to counteract the Saudi theft with a state-of-the-art anti-piracy unit that includes digital finger printing, 24-hour monitoring and take down teams.
But so far they have not been able to trace where the illegal feed is coming from.
This week it emerged that beoutQ was also stealing NBCUniversal Telemundo’s World Cup feed and ,as with the beIN theft, superimposing the beoutQ logo over the Telemundo one.
Telemundo paid £450mn to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Spanish-speaking audiences in American.
BeoutQ claims to be a Colombian and Cuban venture but investigations have shown it to be linked to Saudi companies and promoted by Saud al-Qahtani, Media Adviser to the Saudi Royal Court.
Tom Keaveny, beIN Managing Director for Mena (Middle East and North Africa), said: "The pirated signal is being transmitted by the Riyadh-based satellite provider Arabsat, whose largest shareholder is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia".
He added that the beoutQ operation "takes industrial scale knowledge and ability and multi million dollar funding. This isn’t someone in their bedroom".
The day before FIFA issued its statement the Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman sat next to the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, at the opening match of the World Cup in Moscow.
Due to a lack of transparency UEFA is said to be lukewarm about plans by Infantino to revamp the Club World Cup with a £25bn investment believed to be coming from Saudi Arabia and Japan.
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