World Cup TV rights complaint provokes new Gulf Arab row

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Soccer’s governing body FIFA on Friday accused television channel BeoutQ, which is widely available in Saudi Arabia, of illegally broadcasting the opening games of the World Cup.

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup - Saint Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg, Russia - June 11, 2018. A man is seen next to the FIFA World Cup logo at the stadium. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Following FIFA’s announcement, officials from Qatar - where a TV station holds the regional rights to air the tournament - traded barbed comments online with allies of Saudi Arabia in the latest episode of a long-running feud.

FIFA said in a statement that it was “exploring all options to stop the infringement of its rights, including in relation to action against legitimate organizations that are seen to support such illegal activities”.

Qatari-based beIN Sports network is the only rights holder for the 2018 World Cup, which kicked off in Russia on Thursday, in the Middle East and North Africa, the channel said on its website.

BeoutQ and the Saudi government could not immediately be reached for comment.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a boycott on Qatar in June 2017, severing diplomatic and transport ties with Doha.

Qatar announced last week that it was taking the UAE to the United Nations International Court of Justice in the Hague over what it described as violations of its citizens’ and residents’ human rights.

The soccer row spilled onto Twitter.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, tweeted that sports should not be politicized, to which the head of Qatar’s information office responded: “We’ll see you in The Hague at the end of June. Enjoy watching the World cup on the Qatari #bein.”

Riyadh and its allies accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism, charges that Doha denies.

Reporting by Katie Paul and Omar Fahmy; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by David Stamp