Doha (AFP) – Qatar’s beIN Media Group on Monday urged football’s governing body FIFA to take legal action against what it called pirate broadcasters in Saudi Arabia ahead of the World Cup.

“We have requested FIFA to take direct legal action against Arabsat and the indications we have show that they are behind that,” general counsel of beIN Sophie Jordan told AFP on Monday.

“We have asked FIFA to put direct pressure on the pirates,” she added.

BeIN says the expensively purchased broadcast rights it has secured for major sporting events in the region — including football’s biggest tournament which starts on June 14 — are being undermined by pirate broadcasters operating out of its much larger neighbour.

The Doha-based company has the rights to broadcast all 64 matches from Russia across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

It is one of the tournament’s official broadcasters and plans to show matches in 24 countries.

In response, FIFA said it took matters of “intellectual property very seriously”.

“FIFA is working with its various partners to minimise issues relating to the infringement of its rights in the MENA region,” it told AFP.

BeIN said that since last October, a vast and sophisticated Saudi bootlegging network known as “beoutQ” — using a signal from Riyadh-based satellite provider Arabsat — had been illegally transmitting its broadcasts.

Illegal transmissions from beoutQ had appeared in Morocco, Jordan and Syria, and it was likely they would soon reach Asia and southern Europe, said beIN.

It added that channels showing movies, TV dramas and food programmes were also being pirated.

Tom Keaveny, beIN’s managing director in the MENA region, called it a “full piracy operation” that is heavily funded.

Jordan, beIN’s general counsel, said the pirates had “big plans for the World Cup”.

The piracy claim comes at a politically sensitive time in the Gulf, with Qatar boycotted by its neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, in a highly fractious year-long diplomatic and economic dispute.

Qatar has been isolated since June 5, 2017, accused by Saudi Arabia and its allies of supporting terrorism and being too close to Riyadh’s archrival, Iran — charges Doha denies.

Tensions have heightened as the blockade’s anniversary approaches.

– Exclusivity issue –

BeIN says it has been unable to secure legal representation in Saudi Arabia since the start of the boycott, and thus cannot take legal action in the kingdom.

The broadcaster has also called on European football’s governing body UEFA to go to the courts after it said last weekend’s Champions League final was broadcast illegally by beoutQ.

BeIN has additionally lodged complaints with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, courts in the United States and “other jurisdictions”.

Daniel Markham, a beIN UK executive director, said FIFA should be more involved in the case as it has implications for other rights holders.

“Frankly and candidly, rights holders need to do more on this topic, these are their rights,” said Markham.

He added that companies like beIN were buying “exclusivity” but not receiving it.

The Qatari broadcaster also accused authorities in Saudi Arabia of removing beIN cable boxes from restaurants and hotels.

BeIN would not say how many customers it had potentially lost because of piracy since October.

Saudi Arabia is the largest shareholder of Riyadh-based Arabsat.

Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup and its state-owned national carrier Qatar Airways is a FIFA “official partner and airline”.