Saudi Arabia 1 Qatar 0: The BeIN Sports TV streaming war explained

Saudi Arabia 1 Qatar 0: The Middle East streaming war explained
Saudi Arabia 1 Qatar 0: The Middle East streaming war explained

Streaming platforms for BeIN Sports - the Qatari-owned broadcaster which counts Gary Neville among pundits - have been turned off across Saudi Arabia in an alleged "power play" against Qatar at the World Cup.

Telegraph Sport explores how and why the furore has erupted.

What's happened?

BeIN has been in frantic talks with Saudi and Fifa as the streaming platform it owns - called - has been cut in Riyadh since the opening ceremony. TOD broadcasts across the entire Middle East and North Africa and has millions of subscribers in Saudi Arabia, where it is bigger than Netflix and Disney.

A letter sent to customers and business partners from TOD outlines how the broadcaster was subjected to an alleged cyber attack before the blockage took place. "During the Opening Ceremony of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 on November 20th, TOD experienced an unprecedented series of cyber-attacks on our systems between 07:00pm (November 20th) and 04:00am (November 21st)," the letter says.

"During that time, the platform’s performance was regretfully impacted and some viewers were unable to access our offerings. We would like to reassure you that the source of this interruption was identified and successfully rectified. Additional measures have also been implemented to secure seamless experiences for all.

"Furthermore, and due to matters beyond our control, we are experiencing an outage in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is currently impacting, the official streaming partner of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Additional information will be provided as soon as it is available."

Why would Saudi Arabia cut the feed?

Sources with knowledge of the situation claim it is a power play by Saudi Arabia to undermine Qatar. Saudi's public investment fund, which effectively owns Newcastle, attempted - but failed - to buy beIN last year, Telegraph Sport understands.

Relations between nations had improved in the build up to the tournament and tens of thousands of Saudis are currently in Doha cheering on their team. "This is all about Saudi control, and not having control of the most powerful medium in their country," a senior figure close to the sudden fall out said.

"Saudi beating Argentina is more powerful than any news channel, and they don’t own the rights to it. But they want to run world sport and be taken seriously.  It is mad." The insider added: "Saudi consumers have gone crazy about this – however the news has been almost unseen since the opening game for two main reasons: "Saudi have suppressed the news; and beIN broadcasts 22 of the 64 matches of the World Cup on free-to-air which is still available in every home (basically the big matches are still accessible – stopping riots on the street)."

What is Fifa doing about it?

The governing body has declined to comment after being repeatedly asked by Telegraph Sport to state its position.

However, BeIN are urgently pleading with Gianni Infantino to help via legal representations submitted on Saturday. The insider added: "Ultimately Infantino needs to answer a very simple question - how possibly can your official streaming partner be banned? And by the country and head of state who is bidding for the next World Cup."

Saudi Arabia 1 Qatar 0: The Middle East streaming war explained - REUTERS
Saudi Arabia 1 Qatar 0: The Middle East streaming war explained - REUTERS

What is Saudi Arabia's position and who could be behind it?

Qatari broadcasters believe the Saudi Ministry for Media is responsible for the block, but the nation is yet to comment on the claims.

The situation is puzzling given Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been in Doha over the past week showing apparent enthusiasm for the World Cup.

Saudi sports minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisa, also told British broadcasters the country was lending its backing to Qatar.

Upsetting Fifa would also appear unwise, given the nation is keen to itself host a future World Cup.

Could this be connected to the Qatar-Saudi TV piracy row?

The move has particularly infuriated Qatar as Saudi rulers had in previously switched off piracy network beoutQ to ensure beIN - one of the Premier League's biggest right-holders - would no longer object to the Newcastle United takeover.

Pirate pay-TV broadcaster beoutQ - which streamed Premier League and European football in doctored versions of BeIN coverage - operated in Saudi Arabia between August 2017 and August 2019.

It was a sophisticated Riyadh-based piracy operation which illegally retransmits beIN Sports channels with a seven-second delay, allowing technicians to superimpose “beoutQ” branding on the screen.

The pirate media empire broadcasts 10 live channels of sport. The channels are generally available across the Middle East and North Africa via satellite provider Arabsat. Boxes have been picked up in Europe in recent months.

BBC and Sky had joined BeIN in demanding a Government crackdown. The Premier League had also been warned BeIN would sever its agreement with the league if it allowed the Newcastle takeover to go through while a row with Saudi continued. The network was eventually switched off amid international pressure, but Saudi Arabia always officially denied state involvement.

BeIN, Fifa and Saudi Arabia were contacted about all the above claims. BeIN and Fifa declined to comment.