KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: A late objection to the Saudi Arabian purchase of Newcastle United has been registered by the Qatari broadcaster beIN Sport.
Newcastle fans have welcomed the imminent end of the club’s 13-year control by the sportswear millionaire Mike Ashley. Under his reign the Magpies have been relegated twice and have never rivalled the Premier League giants in the transfer market.
Ashley has agreed a £300m sale to a consortium backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Initial objections were raised by Amnesty International because of the Saudis’ human rights issues. This was not expected to influence the league whose ownership checks are concerned only with criminal records not political ones.
However the objection from beIN Sport falls into a different category because of the business complications.
The Qatari company is English football’s biggest overseas broadcast partner and has reminded the clubs of a Saudi-based involvement in piracy of Premier League matches as part of a political dispute between the Gulf neighbours.
Over the past two years international sport has seen broadcast deals with beIN pirated in the Middle East and North Africa by a Saudi-based pirate channel, beoutQ. The clue is in the name. ‘Stolen’ competitions have included the World Cup, Champions League and major European leagues as well as other major sports.
The Saudi authorities have blocked all attempts at legal action from FIFA, the Asian and European confederations (AFC and UEFA) plus English, French, German, Italian and Spanish leagues. This prompted beIN’s warning over the Saudis’ Newcastle takeover.
The current three-year beIN deal is worth £500m to the 20 clubs and ceo Yousef Al-Obaidly wrote: “The danger of allowing the acquisition of a controlling interest in a major Premier League club by what is effectively the Saudi Arabian government cannot be ignored given the country’s illegal actions and their direct impact upon the commercial interests of the Premier League, its member clubs, its broadcast partners and football in general.
“As a longstanding partner and huge investor in the Premier League, we urge you to consider carefully all the implications of doing so.”
Al-Obaidly pointed up the “notorious and industrial-scale theft of the Premier League’s intellectual property by Saudi Arabia” and implied that approval of the takeover might affect future broadcast deals.
Under the takeover deal, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) — controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — would acquire an 80pc stake in Newcastle. New chairman would be Yasir Al-Rumayyan. He was appointed in 2015 to head the PIF by all-powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Stakes of 10pc would be held by takeover negotiator PCP Capital Partners and by property developers Simon and David Reuben. Last year the Reubens were named as the second richest family in the UK by The Sunday Times ‘Rich List’ with a net worth of £18.664bn.