Saudi Arabia set to lift ban on Qatar’s beIN Sports network
The move could mean Newcastle United’s stalled potential takeover by a Saudi-led consortium would be a step closer.
Saudi Arabia will reportedly soon lift a four-year ban on the Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports broadcaster and has promised to close pirate websites.
beIN holds the rights to broadcast the Premier League across the Middle East but Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Competition (GAC) suspended its channels in 2017 and “permanently cancelled” the broadcaster’s licence last year amid a bitter dispute between Riyadh and Doha, which was resolved in January.
Cafes and restaurants in the Saudi capital Riyadh have already started using satellite dishes to show games on beIN Sports channels since the diplomatic rift was ended.
It is understood that beIN have been approached by Saudi for them to settle related legal cases, including a $1bn investment arbitration.
A court case, which has been brought by beIN under international arbitration rules and claimed more than $1bn in damages against Saudi Arabia, is still pending. The arbitration will be held in London.
The ending of the ban would remove a key obstacle behind the collapsed takeover of English Premier League (EPL) football club Newcastle United by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund (PIF).
Saudi Arabia’s ban was a key issue raised by critics of a proposed 305-million-pound ($414.4m) bid from the PIF, PCP Capital Partners and Reuben Brothers to buy Newcastle United from British businessman Mike Ashley in April 2020.
The proposed takeover collapsed last year with the consortium saying that the “prolonged process” and “global uncertainty” had “rendered the potential investment no longer commercially viable”.
Newcastle’s owner initiated legal proceedings against the Premier League earlier this year over the aborted takeover attempt that have been adjourned until early 2022.
Thaw in Qatar-Saudi relations
The lifting of the ban would follow a thaw in relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia after the kingdom along with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Doha over a number of allegations including that it was too close to rival Iran – accusations that Qatar vehemently denied.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, was last month pictured with Qatar’s emir and the UAE national security adviser.
Shortly afterwards, a football friendly was announced between Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain and players from two top Saudi clubs in Riyadh next year.
Last December, the EPL and beIN announced a new rights deal worth a reported $500m for the Middle East and North Africa region that will run until 2025.
British newspaper reports said 19 of the 20 EPL clubs supported the deal, with Newcastle the only club to vote against.