The Saudi Arabia-financed consortium's bid for Newcastle United is expected to go through in the near future following the reversal of a ban on beIN Sport in the Gulf nation.
A takeover saga which has now dragged on for 18 months and seen the club embroiled in legal disputes with the Premier League is now closer to resolution and the group, led by Amanda Staveley, the British businesswoman, could soon bring to an end Mike Ashley's 14-year ownership of Newcastle.
The announcement on Wednesday that beIN Sport, the Premier League’s official Middle East broadcaster, will no longer be barred from operating in the kingdom means the takeover is on the cusp of being completed.
In July last year, Staveley’s group pulled out of a deal to buy Newcastle after the Premier League failed to give regulatory approval. The issue was the separation – or lack of – between the Saudi state and its Public Investment Fund (PIF), which would have owned an 80 per cent share of the club. Staveley would have held 10 per cent and David and Simon Reuben, the British businessmen, the other 10 per cent.
Saudi Arabia's involvement in the bid raises important questions about geopolitics, sportswashing and human rights, but a recent poll conducted by the Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) found that 93.8 per cent of its members were in favour of the takeover.
The reversal of the ban on beIN Sports meanwhile ends a lengthy dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
In 2018, Qatar filed a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) saying Saudi Arabia was blocking beIN — a Qatari company — from broadcasting in the kingdom.
The beIN Corporation subsequently launched an international investment arbitration against Saudi Arabia for damages totalling more than $1 billion.
Qatar also accused Saudi Arabia of failing to take effective action against alleged piracy of beIN’s content by beoutQ, a pirate broadcaster.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to reverse its ban of beIN Sport will see beoutQ’s operation turned off. beIN Sport’s international investment arbitration will also end.
Saudi Arabia has also committed to removing all pirate websites when informed of them by beIN.
Last year, the WTO ruled that Saudi Arabia helped breach international piracy laws in relation to the beoutQ. Saudi Arabia has previously denied aiding the beoutQ operation and has insisted there is no link between its government and the alleged piracy.
beIN Sports was broadcast on an irregular basis in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, with beIN commenting at the time: “Regarding breaking stories that beIN is fully operational in Saudi Arabia, nothing has materially changed as far as we are aware at this stage - we are constantly monitoring.
“Our website is still fully blocked in Saudi Arabia and we have received no official communication from the Saudi authorities to suggest that our license has been re-instated.
“However, like everyone, we are hopeful of positive moves by Saudi to allow beIN operations back in the country after 3.5 years. We await to see.”