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The New Arab Staff

Premier League boss quizzed by UK parliament on Saudi Arabia's Newcastle United takeover bid

Newcastle United could be bought out by Saudi Arabia [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 July, 2020

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A decision on Saudi Arabia's bid to buy English football club Newcastle United could be decided soon.
Members of the UK's parliament questioned the Premier League's chief about Saudi Arabia's £300 million bid to buy-out English football club Newcastle United this week, with a decision delayed by 14 weeks due to piracy and human rights concerns.

Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters was quizzed by MPs via video conference on Tuesday about Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund's (PIF) controversial bid to purchase a 80 percent stake in the North East club.

Masters admitted that a decision on the bid was "complicated" due to a recent World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling slamming Saudi Arabia for its connections to pirate sports channels beoutQ and the PIF's head's - Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - links to gross human rights abuses.

"Sometimes things get complicated. There are legal requirements in place that need to be observed," he told MPs, according to the UK media.

Masters was questioned on the bid by the parliament's Culture Select Committee on the current stage of the bid's evaluation, after repeated delays on a decision.

"I do appreciate that uncertainty, I cannot comment in terms of timing or the specifics on any particular takeover but in a perfect world, takeovers would happen cleanly, clearly and in a timely fashion," he said.

One reason for the delay has been the WTO's ruling on a case brought forward by Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports that Saudi-based beoutQ had stolen its transmissions of major sports events.

The WTO ruled in the Qatari broadcaster's favour and slammed Saudi Arabia for its connections with beoutQ.

The channel been reportedly illegally streaming beIN Sports' exclusive regional coverage of English Premier League games and other European football leagues.

Scottish MP John Nicolson slammed Saudi Arabia for being "up to their armpits in piracy" and said it would be "humliating" for the Premier League and Newcastle United is the bid passes.

Masters defended the charges, saying the Premier League's commitment to anti-piracy is "well known" and that its "views on what has happened with beoutQ are on the record".

"What we want to do off the back of the WTO report is for Saudi Arabia to respond positively to the situation and allow sports rights holders to protect their rights," he added.

Saudi Arabia's bid is being stalled by concerns over Mohammed bin Salman's links to human rights abuses, including the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Also of concern are the huge number of activists and perceived opponents of the crown prince who have been disappeared, including women rights' activists.

Human rights groups have slammed the PIF's bid to buy-out the club, saying it would be a greenlight for Saudi Arabia to continue its human rights abuses and allow it to partake in "sports washing".

Masters appeared to acknowlege these concerns and said that the characters of prospective buyers of Premier League clubs will be taken into account.

"Our owners and directors test.. allows us to disqualify owners on a raft of issues. We think it is robust. It allows us to make decisions that are appropriate," Masters said.

"If clubs can find the right owners for their clubs they will be allowed through and if they are not the right people they won't."

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