beIN Sports to air 22 matches for free across Mena
June 14 2018 11:03 PM

By Anthony Harwood/London Correspondent

Doha-based beIN Sports has agreed to broadcast 22 World Cup matches for free across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) after millions of fans faced being unable to watch the tournament.
The sports channel made the announcement just before the tournament opened following consultation with FIFA.

Fans in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco will get to see all their team's games, as well as a selection of quarter finals, the two semi-finals and the final.

The deal with Tunisia is currently only to show their Group matches but should they reach the knock-out stages it’s likely a new deal will be struck for those matches to be broadcast for free as well.

It happened after a £25mn deal with Saudi Arabia fell through leaving millions of fans facing the prospect of being unable to watch their country play in the opening match with Russia.
The Saudi Sports Authority had refused to negotiate directly with beIN due to a diplomatic and transport blockade which Riyadh launched against Doha a year ago, cutting off all trade.
Instead it asked FIFA to broker a deal, but when that didn’t work fans faced the prospect of only being able to watch the games through pirate channels or Internet streaming.
At the same time Egypt said most of its population were just too poor to pay the subscription. In Egypt, subscribers have to buy a beIN decoder for £91 and pay an annual subscription of £95.  The average monthly wage in Egypt is about £176.
The Egyptian Competition Authority pointed to the example of France, where an exclusive deal with beIN to show all 64 matches of the tournament also allowed for 28 games to be shown on a free-to-air basis.
Now, the Qatari channel has agreed to extend the same type of deal to the whole Mena region - despite being subjected to a trade boycott by four of the countries who stand to benefit.
The deal will mean everyone in the Middle East can see for free the opening ceremony, every group game involving Saudi Arabia and Egypt, selected quarter final and semi-final matches as well as the final on July 15.
Nasser al-Khelaifi, Chairman and CEO of beIN MEDIA GROUP, said: "Our region has some of the most passionate, dedicated and knowledgeable football fans in the world, and we are delighted to be able to open up access to the tournament to the multitude of fans who will tune in across the region in the coming weeks.
"The FIFA World Cup galvanises people and nations like no other sports tournament, bringing together families, friends, colleagues and communities of all backgrounds to celebrate – as one world – the greatest football event on earth".
Four of the 23 countries in the Mena region have qualified for this year’s World Cup – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. 
In the absence of a deal, Saudi Arabia had resorted to stealing the beIN satellite feed and broadcasting it using ‘beOUT’ decoder boxes which were widely on sale.
beIN asked FIFA to intervene as its rights were being infringed and it’s believed that Wednesday’s announcement could mark the start of a wider crackdown on piracy by football’s governing body.

Last updated: June 15 2018 05:50 PM

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