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22 Apr, 2020 12:48

Premier League becomes geopolitical battleground as Qatari broadcaster moves to block Saudi takeover

Premier League becomes geopolitical battleground as Qatari broadcaster moves to block Saudi takeover

The Premier League has been called upon by one of its biggest broadcast partners, the Qatar-based beIN Sports, to fully investigate the motivations behind a proposed Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle United.

Yousef al-Obaidly, chief executive of the Qatar-based broadcaster, has written to each of the heads of the 20 Premier League sides to express his reservations about the potential deal and accuses the Saudi government of a "facilitation of the near three-year theft of the Premier League's commercial rights."

"It is no exaggeration to say that the future economic model of football is at stake," al-Obaidly wrote in the letter, which was also addressed to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters and adds that clubs must work to protect their revenue streams while sport is at a global standstill during the coronavirus crisis.

Al-Obaidly's complaint stems from the beoutQ television service in the region which has reportedly illegally broadcast Premier League content despite the rights being owned by beIN Sports, who are in the middle of a three-year, £400 million ($495 million) contract with the Premier League.

The complaint continues to say that the Saudi government, through its alleged support from beoutQ, are hijacking potential commercial revenues for Premier League clubs.

Saudi broadcaster Arabsat denies that beoutQ uses its frequencies to illegally pirate games and says that statements to the contrary are "defamation attempts and misleading campaigns."

The Saudis are Qataris are bitter regional rivals, with the former joining the regional blockade of Qatar imposed in 2017 over allegations that Doha had sponsored terrorism. 

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Saudi Arabia's mammoth sovereign wealth fund is understood to have backed a takeover of Newcastle United, whose present owner is UK retail billionaire Mike Ashley. The move was immediately condemned by human rights watchdog Amnesty, who suggested the proposed sale is little more than 'sportswashing' - using sport as a means to gloss over large-scale human rights violations.

"To the extent the reports about the acquisition of NUFC are correct, we consider it essential for the Premier League to fully investigate the potential acquirer of the club, including all directors, officers and other representatives from the KSA PIF or other Saudi Arabian entities involved in, or otherwise providing any financing for the acquisition," al-Obaidly's letter continues.

"There appear to be several reasons why such an investigation is being called for by other parties; our request is purely based on Saudi Arabia's past and present theft of your and your member clubs' intellectual property rights." 

Last year, beIN reportedly threatened to pull their investment in Serie A after Italian officials revealed a plan to stage the Italian Super Cup in Saudi Arabia.

Talks on the sale of Newcastle United are on-going and more details are expected to be revealed in the coming weeks.

Also on rt.com Newcastle is the ideal ‘Goldilocks’ club for Saudi Arabia's footballing ambitions