RIYADH (Reuters) – Qatar-based TV channel beIN Sports was broadcast in Saudi Arabia on Monday after the two countries reconciled this month, ending a rift of more than three years, a Reuters witness in Riyadh reported.
It was unclear if the ban was officially lifted but several cafes and restaurants in the capital Riyadh were using satellite dishes to show games of the Premier League on beIN Sports channels.
The Saudi government’s media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on whether the policy had changed.
Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Competition (GAC) said in July it had permanently canceled the license of the broadcaster, which has been barred from broadcasting in the kingdom since mid-2017 due to a bitter dispute with Qatar.
BeIN Media Group said nothing “has materially changed as far as we are aware at this stage”.
“Our website is still fully blocked in Saudi Arabia and we have received no official communication from the Saudi authorities to suggest that our license has been re-instated,” a spokesperson of beIN said in a statement sent to Reuters. “However, like everyone, we are hopeful of positive moves by Saudi to allow beIN operations back in the country after 3.5 years. We await to see.”
In 2018, Qatar filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO), saying Saudi Arabia was blocking beIN from broadcasting in the kingdom and said it had refused to take effective action against alleged piracy of beIN’s content by beoutQ, a commercial-scale pirating operation.
A WTO panel last year found Saudi Arabia had breached global rules on intellectual property rights by failing to prosecute beoutQ, while supporting Riyadh’s view that it could block the Qatari broadcaster from obtaining legal counsel in the kingdom on grounds of national security.
Riyadh has repeatedly said it is fighting piracy and committed to protecting intellectual property.
BeIN has said Saudi was its biggest subscriber base and its biggest commercial market in the Middle East and North Africa.
A court case, which has been brought by beIN under international arbitration rules and claimed over $1 billion in damages against Saudi Arabia, is still pending. The arbitration will be held in London.
A source familiar with the matter told Reuters beIN would withdraw the case once the broadcaster is allowed back in the kingdom, part of a wider political reconciliation between the two countries.
Reporting Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Howard Goller