As the Saudi national football team gears up to kick start its fifth participation in FIFA World Cup, doubt arises over whether average Saudi nationals and residents can watch their team’s matches at home.
Saudis have high hopes their team can push its way beyond the group stage and achieve ‘national glory’, as the team encounters the host country, Russia, today at 6 PM Riyadh time.
But a stalled negotiating round between Saudi sports authorities and the Qatari owner of the tournament’s broadcast rights (beIN Sports) cast doubt on the ability of average Saudis to watch the matches, free of charge.
The Doha-based channel has the exclusive broadcasting rights for World Cup matches across the MENA region, besides the English Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup final.
Saudi Arabia attempted to secure rights to broadcast 22 matches (including the opening and closing games) for $ 35 million, but negotiations with beIN stalled at last moment, on the backdrop of the political row between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Now football fans in Saudi Arabia have a few options left – to buy a pricey subscription, watch the matches at a café, or use a pirate broadcaster.
beIN Sports accuses Saudi Arabia of sponsoring a shadow network (namely BeoutQ) that illegally broadcasts matches online (for free) or via low-price receiver devices available via online retailers like Wadi. Saudi Arabia denies any link with BeoutQ.
On June 11, following the failure of negotiation on broadcasting rights, BeouQ announced on its website that it will broadcast all World Cup matches for free.
Qatar’s beIN Sports said BeoutQ ‘steals’ its own signal and asked the FIFA to take legal action against it.
Yesterday, beIN Sports announced it will broadcast the opening match (between Russian and Saudi Arabia) on its free channel, while keeping remaining matches behind paywall.
Up until this moment, while it remains unclear if an agreement can be reached with beIN Sports, people in Saudi Arabia are busy finding their way to share the glamour with football enthusiasts worldwide.
Saudi – Russia game will start at 6 PM tonight following the opening ceremony of the World Cup 2018, at Luzhniki Stadium.
The opening ceremony will start 30 minutes before the game, with the participation of 500 dancers, gymnasts and trampolinists will be performing in an opening extravaganza that will close with a firework display.
Saudi team’s competition history
World Cup appearances: Five
Best finish: Round of 16 in 1994
Most recent participation: 2006
June 14: Saudi vs. Russia June 20: Saudi vs. Uruguay June 25: Saudi vs. Egypt