Football: Newcastle takeover in sight with Saudis to lift ban on Qatar's beIN Sports

Qatar-based beIN Sports was banned by Saudi Arabia in 2017 at the start of a diplomatic and transport blockade of Qatar, which ended in January. PHOTO: AFP

DOHA (AFP) - A Saudi takeover of English Premier League football club Newcastle edged closer to reality on Wednesday (Oct 6) with the Gulf state set to lift its ban on Qatar-based beIN Sports.

The broadcaster, which holds the rights to the Premier League in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), was banned by Saudi Arabia in 2017 at the start of a diplomatic and transport blockade of Qatar, which ended in January.

"Saudi Arabia's 4.5-year illegal ban on beIN is going to be reversed," a source close to the matter told AFP.

The source added that Riyadh was seeking to settle Qatar's US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion) arbitration claim over pirate broadcasts to Saudi audiences by the BeoutQ network.

No reaction was immediately available from Saudi officials.

Riyadh denied any involvement with BeoutQ, but its failure to take action against the channel was a key reason for the Premier League's decision last year to effectively block a £300 million (S$553 million) Saudi bid for Newcastle.

A Competition Appeals Tribunal last week heard that the league was "improperly influenced" by English top-flight clubs and beIN in making its decision.

An arbitration hearing has been set for January, but it may no longer be necessary with reports in England suggesting the deal could get the green light from the Premier League in the coming hours.

A consortium featuring Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, Amanda Staveley's PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben Brothers withdrew its offer for Newcastle in 2020 following a long wait to approve the deal.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Doha over allegations it supported extremists and was too close to arch-rival Iran, accusations that Qatar denied.

Ties have improved markedly this year.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, was last month pictured grinning with Qatar's emir and the United Arab Emirates national security adviser in beachwear.

Last December, the Premier League and beIN announced a new rights deal worth a reported US$500 million for the Mena region that will run until 2025.

British newspaper reports said 19 of the 20 English top-flight clubs supported the deal, with Newcastle the only club to vote against.

The takeover could transform the fortunes of the Magpies, who have not won a major trophy since 1969.

Manchester City have won five Premier League titles in the last 10 years thanks to the backing of Abu Dhabi-based owners.

Fans have long protested against current owner Mike Ashley, who bought the club in 2007, for a lack of investment. Newcastle sit second-last in the Premier League with no wins from their opening seven games of the season.

A recent poll by the Newcastle United Supporters' Trust found 93.8 per cent of fans were in favour of the takeover.

However, the prospect of a Saudi takeover was met with a backlash by human rights groups.

In April 2020, Amnesty International wrote to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters, warning it was part of Saudi Arabia's efforts to "sportswash" its human rights record.

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