Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has said that the UK government has not put the Premier League under pressure to approve the proposed £300m (€330m/$371.2m) takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
The UK has had long-standing ties with Saudi Arabia but, giving evidence today (Tuesday) to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, Masters insisted that there has been no political pressure to back the takeover.
The league is still reviewing the takeover with the process further complicated by the World Trade Organization’s recent ruling that the Saudi Arabian government operates the beoutQ pirate television service. Pay-television broadcaster beIN Media Group, one of the Premier League’s leading international broadcasters and the subject of the beoutQ piracy, also continues to firmly object any takeover.
Masters said when questioned: “You are suggesting we were put under pressure to go one way or the other. That has not happened.”
Asked by Scottish Nationalist Party MP John Nicolson if the Premier League had spoken to the government about the issue, Masters replied: “I’m talking generally, [but] during my time I’m not aware of government placing any pressure on the Premier League one way or another in relation to any takeover.”
Masters insisted that no government minister has expressed a view to him on the proposed takeover.
On the timeline of the review by the Premier League, Masters said that he “would like the process to conclude shortly”.
The Riyadh-based Saudi PIF is looking to secure an 80-per-cent stake in Newcastle as part of a consortium including Dubai-based financier Amanda Staveley and the billionaire Reuben brothers, David and Simon.
Earlier this year, Yousef al-Obaidly, the beIN Media Group chief executive, wrote to Masters and the chairmen of the respective clubs, urging the league to consider blocking the proposed takeover. The broadcaster’s letter to Premier League chairmen informed them of Saudi Arabia’s “theft of clubs’ intellectual property and commercial rights for nearly three years”.
Asked about the Saudi government’s repeated blocking of the Premier League’s legal action against the beoutQ piracy, Masters admitted that the league has been “extremely frustrated” with the process.
Saudi Arabia has always denied being behind beoutQ. The channel was launched in the wake of the Saudi-led economic blockade of Qatar which began in June 2017.
BeoutQ has challenged the dominance of Qatar-based beIN and its beIN Sports premium channels. BeIN has become the dominant pay-television operator in the Middle East and North Africa over the last decade. Its sports programming has been reproduced virtually in its entirety on the beoutQ platform.
The beoutQ broadcasts are no longer carried on Arabsat’s satellite platform but persist through IPTV set-top boxes. Arabsat has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.