ASO strengthens Saudi ties with new cycling race in Riyadh
ASO, the owner of the Tour de France, has announced plans to organise a new category 2.1 cycling stage race in Saudi Arabia, in the same month it lost a legal battle related to its business in the country.
ASO, which has already moved its Dakar Rally to the Kingdom from next year, said the five-day Saudi Tour will take place from February 4 to 8, 2020 with the route centred around the capital Riyadh.
The event precedes the Tour of Oman, ASO’s existing stage race on the Arabian Peninsula.
Yann Le Moenner, chief executive of ASO, 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.”
Sabah Al-Kraidees, president of the Saudi Cycling Federation, added: “The Saudi Tour is a great opportunity to publicise the country's varied territories and historic sites and to let visitors discover our sense of hospitality. This initiative fits perfectly with the ambition of Saudi Arabia to promote the Kingdom beyond its borders while promoting sport and especially cycling.”
In April, ASO signed a five-year deal to stage the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia, also from 2020, after 11 years in South America.
Once that hosting contract was in place, ASO sought to amend the terms of its five-year, multi-million euro contract with international pay-TV broadcaster BeIN Sports to 2023 covering the Middle East and North Africa in order to sign a free-to-air rights deal in Saudi Arabia.
Qatar-headquartered BeIN, which is banned from operating in Saudi Arabia because of a long-running diplomatic dispute between the two nations, refused ASO's request, after which the French company cancelled the rights deal altogether.
BeIN immediately took legal action, culminating in the 11 October ruling from the Nanterre Commercial Court near Paris, only made public 11 days later, that ASO must respect the terms of its contract with BeIN "in all its stipulations."
The broadcaster also claimed that ASO had been refusing to provide it with the satellite feeds to its events, including the Paris Marathon and cycling's Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice, La Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Le Critérium du Dauphiné and Paris-Tours.
The Commercial Court ordered ASO to pay BeIN €5,000 ($5,567) to offset its legal fees, as well as €10,000 for every day that ASO refused to give BeIN the necessary satellite feeds, technical and operational information to ensure the transmission of all events.
ASO was represented in court by De Gaulle Fleurance & Associés, the same law firm that in June represented Arabsat at the Paris High Court, which ruled that the Saudi Arabia-based satellite provider had been distributing beoutQ, the piracy network that has been stealing BeIN's premium sports content, despite two years of denial.
Indeed, Arabsat continues to insist that it, in fact, won the case, noting that it “reserves the right to take legal action against BeIN” over an alleged “media smear campaign,” involving “bogus and misleading claims.”
BeIN has been fighting a two-year battle to shut down beoutQ, and has strong support from various rights-holders including Fifa, Uefa, Europe's top soccer leagues, the International Olympic Committee, the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which organises Wimbledon, the United States Tennis Association, Tennis Australia, and basketball's NBA.