In a move that is bound to reverberate around the Middle East, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has announced that Israel, for the first time, will broadcast the Soccer World Cup free of charge over satellite, using Israel’s national broadcaster KAN via an Arabic-language transmission. This means that the whole Arab Middle East will be able to watch the World Cup, complete with pre-game discussions and live comment in Arabic.
This is a big deal. Four Arab countries – Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Saudi-Arabia – qualified this year, more than any time before. But none of these countries bought the rights to broadcast the games and to be able to watch, eager fans would have to buy a special subscription from Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based and run network.
Now though, every interested Arab can watch the games free of charge through the easily accessed KAN-network. This will hurt more than Al-Jazzera’s revenues and Qatar’s prestige. Since the GCC boycott of Qatar, there’s been an ongoing back-and-forth between Qatar and her adversaries (including Saudi-Arabia and Egypt) and this move by Israel will undoubtedly give a boost to Qatar’s enemies. The fact that Qatar is scheduled to host the games in 2022 will only add to the mixture and it’s a fair guess that this issue of broadcasting and purchasing power will extend for a long time.