Al Jazeera & beIN: How The World’s Most Controversial Sports Network Became A Pawn In A Deadly Game Of Chess

The Arab world’s leading news outlet Al Jazeera, intertwined with its biggest sport network, beIN Sports, set out to be different when first established in 1996.

After the Saudi authorities tired of realistic yet unflattering Middle Eastern news coverage in that year and forced the local shut down of the BBC, its loss was Al Jazeera’s gain as the platform inherited a vast crew of journalists trained to the BBC’s impeccable standards and eventually flattened the competition over time to become the go-to source for all matters related to the region.

It prided itself on its well-founded journalistic integrity and refused to bow down to dictator-like regimes in countries that bordered its homeland Qatar whilst presenting unfiltered, independent content and being inclusive of those “without a voice,” which even included the state of Israel; generally shunned and treated with disdain by its neighbors.

In the modern age however, over two decades since its inception, Al Jazeera finds itself in the middle of a regional row and has angered Saudi Arabia due to its unflattering coverage of the ongoing conflict in Yemen and has often been accused by the West of catering to terrorists and extremists. Meanwhile, it stands accused of being used by the Qatari government – similarly in a row with its Saudi counterpart due to dealings with sworn, eternal enemy Iran – to paint the administration in a more positive light in wake of constant international scrutiny over its preparations for the 2022 World Cup and related human rights abuses to which the Saudis are no strangers themselves.

Further still, the Gulf region is in crisis as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE have all cut trade ties with Qatar in addition to closing land borders that those among the group share with the incredibly wealthy yet tiny nation.

The Saudis have more than just Al Jazeera in its crosshairs, as spin off giant beIN Sports is also in sight. Not long after the announcement of the yet-to-be-resolved trade embargo, plans to build a network to rival beIN were revealed.

A competitor that can unsettle the channel – which broadcasts action from a number of European leagues to North America, Australia, Asia and of course Europe among other locations – and challenge it for television rights in the coming years. Most unexpectedly, these intentions have received the support of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who has likened Al Jazeera and its work to “Nazi propaganda.”

Not that beIN Sports is squeaky clean itself for reasons other than providing a haven to the disgraced Andy Gray and Richard Keys. It has been chaired by ex-tennis pro Nasser Al-Khelaifi, more famous as the CEO of PSG and chairman of Qatar Sports Investments which rose to worldwide prominence this summer for its dawn raid of both Barcelona and Monaco in capturing either teams’ star players in Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, as part of a thus far fruitless quest to bring the Champions League trophy to the French capital.

Dubbed “the most powerful man in French football,” Al-Khelaifi is prone to demonstrate bias towards Ligue 1 in a simultaneous attempt to elevate the championship above competitors such as the Premier League and La Liga, the latter of which he has already relieved of one of its biggest stars, Neymar, who was tipped to hold the fort once Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had hung up their boots and become its next icon.

Since purchasing the rights to Ligue 1 in 2011 for a cut rate, when compared to the aforementioned rivals, of €90mn per year, a strong relationship has been maintained with the French FA and helped beIN to gain traction in the market when it was originally still Al Jazeera Sports. The following year, beIN began to be used as a title before a complete rebranding in late 2013 that appointed Al-Khelaifi as leader.

And so the two continue to go from strength to strength, a hypocritical manifestation and contradiction of its original form in its selective coverage of the wrongdoings of the Qatari royal family and state-backed PSG as between them Qatar, beIN and Al Jazeera ramp up their efforts to dominate both the footballing and media landscape with seemingly endless amounts of capital much to the dismay of regional neighbors and European club rivals.