GENEVA (AP) — African soccer’s governing body has terminated its biggest broadcast rights deal – for the second time in four years – and provoked a likely legal fight with Qatar-based beIN Media Group.
The split revealed Tuesday in a $415 million contract through 2028 with beIN leaves the Confederation of African Football without a main broadcaster just four months before its marquee men’s national team tournament.
BeIN became CAF’s anchor broadcast partner after the termination in 2019 of a 12-year, $1 billion agreement with French media group Lagardere Sports.
Settling that legal dispute cost CAF $50 million in damages and the soccer body risks heading toward a similar result with beIN, whose chairman Nasser al-Khelaïfi is president of Paris Saint-Germain and sits on the executive committee of European soccer body UEFA.
In a letter seen Tuesday by The Associated Press, beIN Media Group chief executive Yousef Al-Obaidly told CAF executive committee members of receiving a lawyers’ letter last Friday to “unilaterally terminate the contractual relationship between beIN and CAF with immediate effect.”
“I must make clear to you that beIN does not accept this termination and will take all necessary legal steps to challenge and overturn it,” Al-Obaidly wrote in a letter dated Saturday.
Cairo-based CAF did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the terminated deal that covers more than 40 countries including France and the United States.
Four years ago, CAF was in turmoil and under almost direct control of world soccer body FIFA when the Lagardere deal was ended.
African soccer has struggled since to shake the impression it is still heavily influenced by FIFA, whose president Gianni Infantino helped install South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe as CAF president in 2021.
FIFA said Tuesday it was not involved in the decision about beIN.
Infantino’s aides have, however, been closely tied to the launch of a new men’s club competition for CAF – initially called the African Super League — that is effectively a challenger to the established African Champions League for which beIN holds rights.
In his letter, beIN’s CEO acknowledged “a number of issues that have affected the contractual relationship between CAF and beIN.”
Al-Obaidly wrote that deciding to launch the Super League was done “unilaterally, without consultation” by CAF. He also detailed postponed games and tournaments during the COVID-19 pandemic and separate rescheduling of editions of the men’s Africa Cup of Nations.
The 2023 edition will kick off in 2024, in Ivory Coast on Jan. 13 when Senegal will defend the title it won in 2021.
The scheduled June 2023 kickoff was postponed last year because of an expected washout in the rainy season.
Terminating the Qatari broadcaster’s deal was done months after CAF and Motsepe signed a five-year working agreement with the Saudi Arabia soccer federation. It was to include “technical and football development at both club and national team levels” plus “commercial prospects.”
The Saudi federation did not comment Tuesday on the CAF decision.
CAF said it has scheduled an executive committee meeting on Thursday.
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