Summit match between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Arab countries very interested in a sport that generates so much attraction and economic benefit as football. In this case, the 'sporting' struggle moves to the field of the English Premier League, a league competition that currently generates more money in Europe and that moves more money in terms of broadcasting rights. The latest clash between the two rival countries in the Middle East region now has to do with the upcoming purchase of the Newcastle FC team by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of the Saudi kingdom, which has aroused misgivings in Qatar, which through the communications consortium beIN Media Group is trying to hinder the acquisition operation so that it does not take place.
The beIN Media Group, which includes the state-owned sports channel beIN Sports, which had already complained that Saudi Arabia was pirating its various signals, is urging England's top football authorities to block the sale of Newcastle to the IFJ, a Saudi sovereign wealth fund that is one of the richest and most powerful in the world and to which Mohamed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the Kingdom's Crown Prince, is closely linked.
Thus, the beIN Media Group company, which owns the broadcasting rights of the English Premier League matches in the Middle East, sent the 20 teams in the league and its executive director, Richard Masters, a letter signed by its executive director Yousef al-Obaidly explaining the need to prevent Newcastle from becoming Saudi property.
The beIN consortium, supported by sports organizations from various parts of the world, accused Saudi Arabia of supporting a piracy network that was seriously violating its valuable television rights by rerouting its broadcast signal. Its current three-year contract is valued at $500 million, making it the second largest international agreement linked to the Premier League.
Both Gulf nations are engaged in a diplomatic dispute that is causing political tension to escalate in the Middle East. The peak of the confrontation occurred in 2017 when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), supported by Bahrain and Egypt, cut off relations with the Qatari state, which they accused of supporting cross-border terrorism linked to Islamist fundamentalism, something that was denied by Qatar. This blockade was a strong economic blow to the Arab country, which then sought new partners in the international sphere, such as Turkey and Iran, great political adversaries of the pole that brings together friendly nations like the United States and the Saudi kingdom.
The letter sent by Yousef al-Obaidly could now transform the Premier League into another game board for the battle between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
According to media reports, reported in The New York Times, the piracy operation, known as 'beoutQ', which independent investigators have linked to Saudi Arabia, is the largest in the history of sport, encompassing the world's most important sporting events, whose broadcasting rights were sold to make beIN the world's largest buyer of sports rights.
In this operation, beIN's transmissions were allegedly passed on through Arabsat, a regional satellite operator in which Saudi Arabia is the largest investor, and beIN's image was allegedly replaced by a logo with the slogan 'beoutQ'.
"Why is this important? Not only has the potential buyer of Newcastle United caused huge damage to the commercial revenue of his club and the Premier League (in reference to the allegedly illegal broadcasting of English competition content), but the legacy of the illegal service will continue to impact on the future," said Al-Obaidly in the text sent to the British teams. "When the Premier League season resumes in the coming months, all content from the league's broadcasters will still be immediately and illegally available," he said.
According to The New York Times, in September, an investigation sponsored by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), two of its confederations and a group of Europe's major football leagues, including the Premier League, concluded "without a doubt" that Arabsat had played a vital role in the piracy operation. Efforts to litigate against the operation failed after law firms in Saudi Arabia refused to represent the affected organizations.
In this scenario, the Kingdom is close to completing the acquisition of Newcastle FC, one of the historic clubs in British football, with the aim of making it the most powerful British club, above even the all-powerful Manchester City owned by the Zayed al-Nahyan family of the United Arab Emirates. Behind the operation concerning 'the magpies' is Mohamed bin Salman and the aforementioned PIF, with an investment of almost 350 million euros.
It is expected that in May the process of buying the English team by the Arab state fund will be definitely completed, after the contacts developed in the last dates; in what would mean a very important fact within the football of the islands, since Newcastle would become with almost total probability the most powerful club of the British football and that would attract relevant players of the international scene and authentic referents of the benches, who would see with good eyes to land in Saint James' Park to be part of a new ambitious project that would look for fighting for the most important titles.
Although the Public Investment Fund of the Saudi kingdom would not be the only owner; it would take 80 per cent of the club's shares and the rest would be in the hands of a Dubai investment fund controlled by the British multimillionaire Amanda Staveley, with 10 per cent, and the brothers David and Simon Reuben, with the other 10 per cent, characters who had been interested in taking over a team to develop an interesting project within the world of football.
Qatar is asking for a thorough investigation of this acquisition operation. "To the extent that the reports on the Newcastle acquisition are correct, we believe it is essential that the Premier League thoroughly investigate the club's potential buyer, including any directors, officers and other representatives or entities from Saudi Arabia involved in providing any financing for the acquisition," Al-Obaidly told Richard Masters. "Our request is based only on Saudi Arabia's past and present theft of its intellectual property rights and those of its member clubs," the beIN director noted.
However, sources working on the acquisition remain confident that there will be no last-minute problems, suggesting that the Premier League checks that have been in place for a fortnight are nearing completion. It has also been noted that, despite similar concerns, the Premier League gave the green light to the acquisition of Sheffield United by Saudi interests last year as well.
The Premier League continues to be a relevant game board where the interests of important Arab countries meet. The next target is Saudi Arabia's Newcastle, having tried to buy Manchester United last year, while Qatar is trying to stop this operation after other illustrious clubs like Manchester City were once owned by the Arab Emirates. Qatar first set their sights on European football years ago, with PSG being their mainstay with Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Sheikh Nasser al-Khelaifi leading the way.
A country the Qatari are leading in the controversy surrounding the organization of their World Cup in 2022.
The judicial investigations into the alleged bribes for the right to organize the World Cup, including allegedly false payments by the state television channel Al-Jazeera, are well known, as are the investigations already reported by several international organizations, which have found very poor working conditions for workers on the construction sites of the stadiums for Qatar 2022. Several media outlets such as Foreign Policy have already warned how foreign workers are living in overcrowded and unhealthy areas, which is all the more striking in view of the current global health crisis caused by the spread of the COVID-19 disease.