Egypt dents Qatar's African-sports monopoly in ongoing media war

The Confederation of African Football said it annulled the agreement because it breached Egyptian competition rules.
Sunday 17/11/2019
Egyptians gather at a cafe in the city of Ismailia to watch a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations football match, last June. (AFP)
A stiff competition for viewers. Egyptians gather at a cafe in the city of Ismailia to watch a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations football match, last June. (AFP)

CAIRO - Egypt scored a victory towards breaking Qatar’s monopoly in broadcasting sporting events in Africa when the Confederation of African Football revoked a $1 billion marketing agreement with Lagardere Sports.

Signed in 2016, the agreement would have excluded all African and international agencies for 20 years. The agreement made Lagardere CAF’s exclusive agent for the marketing and media rights for an uninterrupted period without any open tender.

Lagardere, under the deal, had awarded the broadcast rights of all African sports competitions to the Qatari beIN network of sports channels.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) said it annulled the agreement because it breached Egyptian competition rules.

The scrapping of the agreement was the latest round in a media tug of war between Egypt and Qatar, which have become foes because of Doha’s perceived hostile policies towards the Egyptian government and suspected interference in Egyptian affairs.

Qatar, seen as a major regional sponsor of political Islam, has run into conflict with Egypt because of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and sought to curb Qatari influence in the sports broadcasting field.

Egyptian media companies have tried to compete with Qatari-owned or -funded broadcasters.

“The annulment of the agreement will deal a painful blow to Qatari monopoly over sports events in Africa,” said Azmi Megahed, a member of the board of the Egyptian Football Federation. “It will open the door for competition over the broadcast of African championships.”

The Qatar Investment Authority, which acts as Qatar’s national wealth fund, owns 13% of Lagardere, which makes it the top investor in the multinational media conglomerate. Lagardere is viewed by Cairo as one of Doha’s means of controlling sports broadcasting in Arab and African countries.

Tens of millions of Egyptians had signed up with Qatar’s other sports marketing and broadcasting arms, including beIN. During the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, Egyptian television channels encouraged fans to scrap the Qatari network for other channels.

The network sustained huge losses because millions of viewers found a way to watch the matches by using cheap locally made antennas that received the Qatari network.

“Lagardere abused the marketing and media rights it was given by the agreement,” said Amir Nabil, chairman of the Egyptian Competition Authority, which regulates commercial practices in the Egyptian market. “This abuse caused harm to the Egyptian economy and negatively affected Egyptians’ rights to watch African sports championships.”

The Egyptian Competition Authority started legal action against Lagardere in 2017, saying the 2016 agreement between Lagardere and CAF violated Egyptian competition rules. The authority asked CAF to terminate the agreement.

In 2018 and 2019, Egyptian economic courts said former CAF President Issa Hayatou and former CAF General Secretary Hicham El Amrani, who signed the agreement with Lagardere, were guilty of anti-competitive and fraudulent conduct.

The courts imposed a fine of $31 million on each of them, an amount of money later reduced to approximately $12.4 million, which CAF will have to pay.

In 2017, the Competition Commission of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa said the agreement breached its competition regulations. The commission recommended imposing financial penalties on CAF and terminating the agreement with Lagardere.

CAF, in a statement issued November 8, said that it had no choice but to terminate the agreement.

However, the end of the agreement will not likely end Egypt’s media war with Qatar, Egyptian specialists said. Cairo will continue to protect the interests of Egyptian consumers and prevent the Qatari media empire from dominating Arab and African media scenes, they added.

“Egyptian agencies can prove strong rivals to Qatar,” said Egyptian sports commentator Hassan al-Mistikawi. “They can start with African sports events and then move on to contests in other areas.”

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