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ASO announces Saudi Tour in latest blow in beIN conflict

Yellow jersey Egan Bernal Gomez of Colombia and Team Ineos during stage 21 of the 106th Tour de France 2019, the last stage from Rambouillet to Paris - Champs Elysees (128km) on July 28, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Amaury Sports Organisation, the group behind the Tour de France and the Dakar Rally, has announced that it will organise a new cycling race in Saudi Arabia, with the inaugural edition taking place next year.

The 2.1 category Saudi Tour will take place on a “star-shaped course” centred around the country’s capital, Riyadh, and will run across five stages from 4-8 February. A statement from ASO promises that “the world’s top riders” will compete in the event, which has been registered in the UCI calendar by the Saudi Arabian Cycling Federation.

Yann Le Moenner, chief executive at ASO CEO, said: “We are involved in the emergence of a new racing scene in the Middle East, which corresponds to the riders’ demand at the beginning of the year. The creation of the Saudi Tour and its sustainable installation in the calendar is part of this movement.

“This new race both represents an exciting organisational challenge, a coherent sporting event for an entire category of riders and a nice opportunity for the television viewers who follow the race to discover new landscapes. This is also for us an occasion to contribute to the development of cycling across the Kingdom.”

The move represents another shot fired in the ongoing conflict between ASO and Qatar-owned international broadcaster beIN, itself part of the wider regional power struggle in the Middle East.

BeIN has been the victim of an aggressive and long-running piracy operation by Saudi-based beoutQ, and has encouraged rights-holders not to hold events in Saudi Arabia while that operation is ongoing. BeIN alleges that beoutQ is supported by the Saudi government and that by holding events in the country, organisers are helping to fuel piracy and undervalue their own rights.

The ASO-beIN conflict began when ASO announced it was moving the Dakar Rally from South America to Saudi Arabia from 2020, after which ASO reportedly attempted to leave its five-year exclusive rights deal with beIN and licence the media rights to a Saudi Arabian broadcaster.

Last week, beIN claimed a significant court victory over ASO when a French court ruled that the organisation must honour its agreement with the Qatari company.

BeIN also alleged that ASO refused to provide satellite feeds to its events, for which beIN was the official and exclusive broadcast partner.

Yousef Al-Obaidly, chief executive of beIN Media Group, recently criticised Italy’s Serie A and the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) for continuing to host their Super Cup competitions in Saudi Arabia.

He said: “The CEOs of Serie A and RFEF continue to see no issue with hosting their flagship Super Cup games in the very country that has been stealing the commercial rights of all their broadcast partners for over two year, destroying the value of the Italian and Spanish game in the process.”

This hasn’t stopped Saudi Arabia attracting further top-level sporting events. Earlier this month, the Saudi General Sports Authority announced that it would stage the Diriyah Tennis Cup, the country’s first-ever international tennis tournament.