Saudi Arabia’s sports minister has criticized the president of European soccer on Twitter in an escalating dispute over Qatar-owned sports broadcasting rights.
World Cup and Champions League TV rights for the Middle East are a proxy battleground in a year-old, Saudi-led boycott of Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host.
Turki al-Sheikh suggested Thursday on his verified account that UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin was a man “of many faces,” whom he had refused to meet.
One hour later, UEFA sent a testy reply on its Twitter account minutes after Croatia completed a 3-0 win over Argentina.
“UEFA was quite surprised by a tweet of @Turki_alalshikh, as the UEFA President has never heard of this person and he therefore would have no reason to meet him,” the European soccer body wrote.
Saudi-based channel BeoutQ has been illegally broadcasting World Cup games while exclusive rights in the region are held by Qatari network BeIN Sports.
FIFA described BeoutQ as a “pirate channel” in a statement last week about illegally screening Saudi Arabia’s 5-0 loss to host Russia in the first World Cup game.
One week ago, FIFA said it “takes infringements of its intellectual property very seriously and is exploring all options to stop the infringement of its rights.”
The statement was issued after FIFA president Gianni Infantino sat at the opening game with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who wants sports to help drive modernizing the Saudi economy.
On Thursday, UEFA confirmed BeoutQ had illegally screened Champions League games during the past season.
“UEFA considers that illegal piracy of live football, particularly on the scale of that being carried out by BeoutQ poses a significant threat to European football,” the statement said.
Within hours, al-Sheikh posted a series of 10 tweets that praised the Crown Prince and Infantino, but targeted Ceferin without naming him.
The UEFA president “is trying to meet me, but I am telling him that I do not like to meet men of many faces,” the Saudi minister said.
“If you want to meet, you should have a clear stance on fair issues,” al-Sheikh wrote, “including the monopoly and politicization of sports by beIN SPORTS, which you force us to watch without taking into account the feelings of 30 million Saudi citizens and all the Arab countries’ whose opinions and views had been disregarded.”
Al-Sheikh then described Infantino as “a dear friend for whom the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) and I hold a great respect.”
In recent months, FIFA’s leader has promoted a Saudi-backed $25 billion, 12-year offer for new and revamped competitions which UEFA and Ceferin have publicly resisted.
The Saudi minister expressed a hope FIFA would “reconsider the TV broadcasting rights in the region.” Doha-based beIN has bought regional World Cup rights through the 2030 tournament.
BeIN was trying “to propagate and implement Qatar’s government agendas,” Al-Sheikh wrote Thursday. “Much remains to be said about the World Cup 2022.”