Egypt's Al-Ahly TV channel sparks copyright controversy

Tamim Elyan
6 Min Read

CAIRO: When Cairo giant Al-Ahly sporting club decided to follow the lead of major international football clubs and decided to launch its own channel, things didn t go as smoothly as anticipated, with copyright disputes over Egyptian league matches and a public outcry over the possibility of encrypting the satellite channel.

The channel went live on Aug. 6, with the exclusive broadcast of a friendly between Ahly and Italian AS Roma, a match which triggered a media frenzy reflecting Ahly fans’ concern over not having access to the live TV transmission.

On its part, Ahly denied any intention to scramble the transmission.

We will give Egyptian TV’s terrestrial channels and the Egyptian satellite channel broadcasting rights but no studio interviews with players or technical staff. Other satellite channels will not be allowed to show the matches, Moharam El Ragheb, general manager of Ahly club, told Middle East News Agency (MENA).

Our main aim is to entertain all football fans in Egypt not only Ahly fans, he added.

The crisis emerged on the first day of the league when all satellite channels were getting ready to broadcast Ahly s match against Alexandria’s Olympic club but they were told that Ahly refused to broadcast the match on both terrestrial and satellite channels.

The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) said on its website that it was the only entity that has the authority to sell the copyrights of the league matches according to the contract signed between the EFA and the national Radio and Television Union. The EFA added that it is committed to deals signed between it and the satellite channels which had bought the right to show the matches, which was confirmed at a meeting between the EFA and club representatives Monday.

During the meeting, they also agreed to raise the price of broadcasting Ahly/Zamalek games on terrestrial channels to LE 500,000 per match, up from LE 250,000.

But Gamal Gabr, official spokesman for Ahly, told Daily News Egypt that broadcasting rights are [Ahly’s] and the EFA is only assigned by the clubs to market them.

However, El-Hayat satellite channel had succeeded in smuggling a camera inside the stadium and broadcast a recording of the match.

According to Gabr, Ahly has pressed charges against Al-Hayat as well as other satellite channels like Modern Sport and Dream Sport for violating copyright laws and abusing Ahly club and its fans.

According to clause 8 of the contract between the clubs and the EFA, any club can cancel the contract but it will be deprived of its financial rights, he said.

Last year, 10 clubs from Italian Serie A withdrew from the contract between them and the Italian Football Federation because they saw that they were not treated on an equal footing with other clubs and so they marketed their matches in their own way. Also Barcelona did the same thing twice last season with Al Jazeera Sport demanding that they must be treated equally financially with Real Madrid, Gabr said

Ahly owns only 15 home matches of the 30 played during the season as it didn t sign the deal made between the EFA and the clubs that gives the EFA the right to market the matches.

The channel, which was launched in cooperation with the Saudi-owned Arab Radio and Television (ART) channel with which Ahly has signed a management deal, was supposed to launch in June 2007 but was delayed because of copyright issues.

The ART is only charged with technical management to spare Ahly the cost of equipment and to take advantage of their experience in the field, but the channel is owned by Al-Ahly Company for media production, Gabr said.

If Ahly succeeds in gaining exclusive rights to its 15 matches, the EFA will be obliged to pay LE 20 million to contracted satellite channels, according to a punitive clause in the contracts between them. The EFA will also have to pay back all the money it received from theses channels.

To solve the problem, Ahly proposed to buy the rights to broadcast the Egyptian league games for LE 3 million like other channels.

Various sports columnists have urged the state to ban launching satellite channels for sports clubs because this will only serve to intensify the hatred between football fans which may lead to unwanted conflicts.

The problem may no longer be confined to one club as other major clubs like Zamalek and Ismaili announced in official statements that they are watching closely what is happening in this case and that they will not give up their rights.

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