Broadcasting giant BeIN Media has urged the Premier League to block a proposed £300m Saudi takeover of Newcastle United amid concerns about “industrial scale” piracy.
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is said to be on the brink of accepting a takeover offer from a consortium backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
However, the chief executive of Qatari media network beIN Yousef al-Obaidly has written to top-flight clubs urging them to block the deal due to the state’s involvement in a pirate TV network.
BeIN is locked in a bitter dispute with illegal Saudi-backed broadcaster BeoutQ, which it has accused of pirating its coverage of Premier League fixtures.
“In light of the Saudi Arabia government’s facilitation of the near three-year theft of the Premier League’s commercial rights — and in turn your club’s commercial revenues — through its backing of the huge scale BeoutQ pirate service, I would strongly suggest that you fully interrogate this deal, and ask the Premier League to do the same, as a matter of urgency,” al-Obaidly wrote.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the future economic model of football is at stake,” he added.
The Qatari media boss has reportedly also written to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters.
BeIN has been forced to lay off hundreds of employees as a result of the audacious piracy campaign, which it has warned could lead to a collapse of the value of sports broadcasting rights.
Its three-year broadcasting deal with the Premier League — worth roughly £400m — is one of the competition’s largest international contracts.
An investigation last year by Fifa, Uefa and the Premier League concluded “without doubt” that Saudi satellite operator Arabsat had enabled BeoutQ’s piracy.
Arabsat has always denied the allegations and attempts to take legal action against the company have failed.
The intervention comes after billionaire tycoon Ashley, who also owns Sports Direct, reached a deal to sell Newcastle United, which he acquired in 2007.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is said to be closing in on an 80 per cent stake in the Magpies, while the remaining equity will be shared by financier Amanda Staveley and property moguls David and Simon Reuben.
But the takeover has also sparked criticism from Amnesty International, which has urged the Premier League to consider Saudi Arabia’s human rights record before approving the deal.