In a blow to rival Qatar, Israel has announced it will broadcast free coverage of the 2018 Fifa World Cup throughout the region.
Israel will give soccer fans from Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and the Palestinian West Bank territories, a free-pass to watch the Fifa World Cup tournament on Israeli Arabic channel Makan, meaning Qatar’s subscription broadcast monopoly is likely to suffer.
Football fans can now choose between paying for a subscription to watch the games on Qatari channel beIN Sports, or catching it for free on Israel’s dime.
Israel said they will offer a free Arabic broadcast and commentary of the games, after the Israeli Broadcasting Authority paid £5.6 million for the rights to broadcast the tournament.
A post on the Israel In Arabic Facebook page on Sunday read:
In a historic step, the Israeli free-to-view channel Makan will broadcast the World Cup in Arabic, confirming the importance of the Arabic language and Israel’s respect for it.
Why it matters:
Israel’s attempt to win hearts and minds in the region comes amid a nine-month stand-off between Qatar and a coalition of Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, which are have placed a trade block on Doha.
The Jewish state of Israel does not currently have diplomatic relations with Qatar or Lebanon.
Moran Zaga, an expert on Israel-Gulf relations, told Verdict that Israel is hoping to curry favour with football fans in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and with Palestinians:
It put Israel in an optimal position. Millions of people across the Arab World will be watching the games through Israel’s broadcasting in live stream. That’s a lot of power to deliver a hidden and direct message, and it might sway positive public opinion towards [Israel] within those communities.
She added that charging a Jordanian farmer the equivalent of their monthly salary to watch the games was “an own goal for Qatar”.
Israel would take that opportunity with both hands. Sports is always intertwined with politics and this event is no different.
The diplomatic crisis erupted in June last year when Gulf states pointed the finger at Qatar as a state sponsor of terrorism, pressuring the oil and gas rich state’s close ties with Shia-dominated Iran — Saudi Arabia’s arch rival.
Fans in Egypt, one of the countries that joined the embargo against Qatar, will now be caught in the spat, and torn between watching the games for free with Israel, or paying to view them with Qatar.
The games are expected to be popular among Egyptian fans, eager to watch their national team compete for the third time ever in their first appearance in nearly three decades.
Subscriptions to BeIn Sports, a spinoff of Qatari state broadcaster, Al Jazeera television network were banned in the UAE and Saudi Arabia in June 2017 due to the diplomatic fallout.
Access to the channel was reinstated in the UAE the following month.
Egypt’s leader President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi has forged close relations with Sunni Gulf states over their hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic group that is banned in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where Brotherhood members are served stiff jail sentences.
Qatar is also accused of providing financial backing for Palestinian group Hamas, a militant offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, who Israel, the US and European Union have branded as a terrorist organisation.
The games are will kick off in Moscow on 14 June and will run until 15 July.