By Zahra Alipour, for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.
Iran state broadcaster in hot water at home, abroad over airing rights
Shortly after the beginning of the European Soccer Championships in France last month, beIN Sports — the subsidiary of Qatar’s Al Jazeera network holding exclusive broadcasting rights for the tournament — announced that it would file a complaint against Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and a number of other broadcasters for illegally airing games.
Additionally, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) stressed that TV networks that violated broadcasting rules would face fines.
Following these announcements, IRIB’s satellite broadcasts of Euro 2016 games were suspended, with the Iranian state broadcaster only airing the tournament via terrestrial transmission.
Soccer is a popular sport in Iran. The derbies of the country’s domestic football league regularly attract 100,000 spectators to Tehran’s Azadi stadium, while millions more watch games at home. Iranian soccer fans have enjoyed free access to domestic and foreign games for years through the state-run IRIB, which has been repeatedly embroiled in disputes with both local teams and the Soccer Federation of Iran. With beIN Sports’ complaint, it seems that the IRIB’s disputes over broadcasting rights have gone international.
“The reality is that television broadcasting rights is one of the important issues in the growth of soccer,” Ali Aalei, a sports journalist and editor of the Iranian monthly The World of Soccer, told Al-Monitor, “However, in Iran, this outlook does not exist and television broadcasting rights have not been accepted as a right. It’s natural that this outlook also exists with respect to the rights related to the broadcasting of foreign soccer games.”
Aalei’s first memory of watching a live game on Iranian television dates back to the 1990 World Cup. “I remember that Iranian television used to broadcast the games with a delay, and since our family lived in the north of the country — on the border with the then-Soviet Union — we could also watch the games without censorship on the television channels of neighboring countries.”
The IRIB’s first serious challenge in terms of simultaneous broadcasting rights emerged in relation to the 2002 World Cup. Iran had purchased broadcasting rights but found itself facing a complaint from the Japanese broadcaster after only two games, as it was airing games on satellite frequencies popular in neighboring countries.