Qatar’s beIN Sports faces steep fine in Egypt

BeIN violated Egypt’s competition law by forcing subscribers to switch to Qatar’s Sohail satellite to access its programming.
Sunday 04/02/2018
A file picture shows a microphone with the logo of the TV Sport channel beIN Sport. (AFP)
Under a cloud. A file picture shows a microphone with the logo of the TV Sport channel beIN Sport. (AFP)

CAIRO - An Egypt court fined beIN Sports $22.6 million for violating anti-trust regulations, the latest in a series of troubles for the Qatari-owned network.

The Cairo Economic Court found the beIN Media Group and Chairman Nasser al-Khelaifi guilty of what it termed “monopolistic practices” and handed down a fine of 400 million Egyptian pounds ($22.6 million).

BeIN violated Egypt’s competition law by forcing subscribers to switch from Egyptian satellite Nilesat to Qatar’s Sohail satellite to access its programming, which included exclusive broadcast rights to the African Cup of Nations football matches.

“This caused Nilesat direct economic deficits and harmed market competition,” a statement from the Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) said.

BeIN’s subscription policy, which forced customers to subscribe to all sports bundles to view a single football tournament, was deemed “exploitative.”

“This is not the first time that the channel has violated Egyptian law,” the ECA statement added, referring to its broadcasting of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. At the time, any Egyptian viewer interested in watching the World Cup had to subscribe to beIN for at least one year.

With Egypt set this year to appear in its first World Cup since 1990, Egyptians are concerned about being able to follow the tournament.

BeIN criticised the ECA and claimed its decision was politically motivated.

“BeIN categorically rejects and is shocked and appalled by the judgment of the Cairo Economic Court,” a beIN statement said. “The judgment is based on unfounded and politically motivated allegations by the ECA that have no basis in fact or law.”

Qatar remains in a political crisis with several Arab countries, including Egypt, over allegations of Doha’s support for outlawed groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been designated as a terrorist organisation in Egypt.

ECA Chairwoman Mona El-Garf praised the Cairo court ruling, saying: “It advocates rule of law against the harmful practices of beIN Sports against the Egyptian citizen who loves football.”

“Our agency took the lead in shedding light on the company’s practices, a matter that prompted international bodies to act against beIN Sports,” she added.

This is not the first time that beIN Sports has been embroiled in controversy. A new book by FIFA whistle-blower Bonita Mersiades claims that beIN Sports — then called Al Jazeera Sports — agreed to secretly pay $100 million to FIFA to ensure Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

The book, “Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way,” alleges that then FIFA President Sepp Blatter knew Qatar would win the vote and that the payment from Al Jazeera Sports occurred with the knowledge of former FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke. Both Blatter and Valcke have subsequently been banned by FIFA.

“Valcke’s concerns about revenue growth in relation to Qatar were assuaged when negotiations commenced in October 2010 for a bonus payment of $100 million to FIFA from Al Jazeera if Qatar won 2022. There was no way he could turn it down,” the book said.

A trial of three senior South American football officials in US District Court in New York revealed that FIFA officials were paid millions of dollars to back Qatar’s World Cup bid. The trial also tied Khelaifi to Argentinian sports firm Full Play, which is believed to be at the centre of bribery payments.

Doha is also facing accusations over its winning of the right to host the 2019 Athletics World Championship, with media reports that the US Justice Department was pursuing possible racketeering, money laundering and fraud charges related to the International Association of Athletics Federations’ awarding of meets.