EXCLUSIVE: FIFA, Saudi Sports Authority near decision on World Cup broadcast rights

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Confidential sources have exclusively told Al Arabiya English that direct negotiations are underway between Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority and FIFA for the viewing and broadcasting rights of 22 matches in the 2018 World Cup, which begins next Thursday.

The 22 matches would include all Saudi national team games in the event of their qualification into further stages of the tournament. This would give Saudi Arabia the same viewing rights of many other nations in the region and beyond who have qualified to this year’s World Cup and will be watching their teams.

The sources also said that with the imminent launch of the World Cup, the issue has placed great pressure on FIFA, especially as beIN sports channels are not authorized to broadcast within Saudi Arabia.

BeIN does not have a license in accordance with broadcasting procedures enforced in Saudi Arabia and FIFA regulations place emphasis on the right of countries participating in the tournament to watch and broadcast their games.

It is being viewed as strange that a country qualified to the World Cup does not have the rights to broadcast its national team’s matches, the sources said.

Ultimately, FIFA has to play its role in allowing Saudi Arabia to broadcast its national team’s matches, the sources added.

The sources also revealed that the morning of Monday, June 11 is the last opportunity between FIFA and the Saudi sports authority to finalize the matter, especially as the Saudi team will be playing the opening game against Russia on Thursday.

In a Bloomberg interview in Zurich earlier this week, Saudi sports authority chief Turki Al-Sheikh accused Qatar of backtracking from a FIFA-brokered deal to let the kingdom air the opening and closing games as well as 20 other encounters for $35 million.

He said details of the agreement had been relayed by FIFA officials, but Qataris who later met with FIFA and Saudi representatives at the agency’s headquarters this month denied an agreement had been reached on the sum, according to Al-Sheikh.

“Saudi Arabia has shown good faith,” he said, adding: “The meeting was supposed to discuss technical details, not financial.”