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The right to air
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 27 - 11 - 2008

A dispute over TV rights postponed a local soccer derby and shed light on the absence of clear laws governing who may broadcast what. Nashwa Abdel-Tawab reports on a row that basically affects the football man on the street
Last Saturday the Cairo derby -- the biggest club clash on the Egyptian, Arab and African calendar -- was postponed after a row over television rights. Rivals Ahli and Zamalek were due to meet that day, however, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) decided to call it off after Ahli insisted they held the TV rights to their home matches.
The EFA had signed a new TV deal at the beginning of the season, which put them in direct conflict with Ahli, the newly crowned African champions, and Egypt's sole powerhouse club.
Ahli claim they have a right to market their own home matches, but EFA says it owns the exclusive rights to its own games, including last Saturday's clash.
The match is now expected to be rescheduled for January, which will add to an already congested fixture list for Ahli, who have seen four more domestic games moved to early 2009 due to their African Champions League run.
Although the delays will surely affect the performance of the players, the decision, however, was welcomed by their Cairo neighbours Zamalek, who have suffered from a poor run of form of late and would have been without key striker Junior Agogo, who is serving a three-match ban.
For the average Egyptian, whose basic outlet lies in soccer, the postponement of the match and the possibilities of more of the same to come is simply another issue to be added on the list of frustrations.
EFA President Samir Zaher is trying hard to reach a compromise. "I'm in charge of Egyptian football," Zaher said recently. "Therefore, it's my duty to protect everyone's rights."
When TV networks were prevented from shooting two of Ahli's recent home games, they decided to take the matter to court, a step which would open the door to other problems. Mohamed Bayoumi, a Qatar- based sports analyst and an expert on international regulations governing sports federations, highlighted the importance of solving the problem peacefully before satellite channels protest to FIFA. If not, FIFA will have the right to put off the Egyptian league until the issue is resolved.
Given that satellite TV channels receive large commercial revenues from broadcasting Ahli's games due to the huge popularity of the five-time African champions, going to court was only natural.
If it had been any club other than Ahli, Zaher would not have given the matter much thought but since Ahli are the country's premier and most popular club in Egypt, with a following of millions, Zaher was forced to give the issue due attention.
It appears Ahli will accept LE6 million in compensation. The expected scenario goes like this: five networks will pay Ahli half a million pounds each and the EFA will not receive the normal LE3.6 million for buying the broadcasting rights of the league matches on its channel this season. But starting from June 2009, a new TV rights law will be passed under the supervision of the National Sports Council.
Ahli have so far played eight games -- five away matches and three at home. Three of their home matches were not broadcast.
Once they launched their satellite channel in August, Ahli sought to gain the exclusive rights to broadcast their home league games except on state television, which, being the host broadcaster, has transmission rights.
Three years ago, the EFA sold those rights to five TV satellite stations: Al-Hayat, Modern Sport, Dream Sport, ART and Orbit. Ahli believe they are the sole party responsible for the broadcasts. But there is confusion in Egypt over who owns broadcasting rights. All Egyptian Premier League clubs, with the exception of Ahli, previously authorised the EFA to sell their broadcasting rights.
According to the contract signed by the clubs, the EFA and the TV stations, Article 8 stipulates that any club that launches a TV station has the right to withdraw anytime and broadcast its games exclusively. And while everyone was aware of that clause, no one believed it would be enforced by anyone -- let alone Ahli.
None of the five channels were able to broadcast live Ahli's first league match in August against Olympic. Ahli had forbidden the entry of TV cameras into Cairo Stadium and the crews were sent away. Despite the tight measures, a TV station reporter managed to sneak in with a camera, blend in with the spectators, film the game and broadcast it 20 minutes before the Ahli channel did.
Ahli then released a statement confirming their intent to air the team's league games exclusively on the club's satellite channel, but excluding state-owned channels from the boycott. This would mean that the Egyptian Satellite Channel (ESC), Egypt's Channel Two and Nile Sports will be able to air the game along with Ahli TV.
"We took into consideration the rights of Egyptian viewers in the country and abroad," the statement that was released on Ahli's website said.
Ahli's decision came after the club officials failed to reach an agreement with the representatives of private satellite channels and EFA.
Ahli carried out their threat in second home game against Assiut Petroleum last month.
The Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU), whose earlier stance seemed to be in favour of the TV networks, surprisingly gave Ahli the all-clear to stop broadcasting.
Although the EFA opposed Ahli's decision, they did not take action to halt the Cairo giants' plan. Now all have to give in to minimise losses.
Rivals are rivals and apparently don't mind taking a page from each other's book. Mohamed Amer, current chairman of Zamalek club, this week announced Zamalek's intentions to block any satellite channel, including that of Ahli, from broadcasting their league games unless they receive their financial dues from the EFA. Zamalek are expected today to send a letter to the EFA and the ERTU informing them of the club's board decision on whether their match with Ismaili on Sunday can be broadcast.
"I'm not against clubs establishing their own channels," said Essam Abdel-Moneim, a sports critic. "I am against the monopoly of sport. Why prevent others from broadcasting if they have paid the EFA and the clubs for the rights? Several channels which give pre-game and post-match analyses can only strengthen the league and the game itself," Abdel-Moneim said.
Mustafa Gomaa, manager of Ahli's TV channel, said he was surprised by the attack on the club and ART. "It's no surprise that Ahli are launching a channel. It has been well known for a year now," Gomaa said. "Sports games have been market products worldwide. Clubs have the right to benefit financially using their name and reputation."

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