Newcastle takeover: DCMS committee member calls for government scrutiny – BBC News

Newcastle have been owned by Mike Ashley for 13 years

Piracy claims surrounding the proposed takeover of Newcastle United should be scrutinised by government, according to a member of the Digital, Cultural, Media and Sport Committee.

The £300m deal – backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – is being checked by the Premier League under its owners’ and directors’ test.

But the Arab state’s alleged role in pirate network beoutQ showing Premier League and other sports illegally has led to demands for further investigation.

In an email seen by BBC Sport, Giles Watling has written to other members of the DCMS committee calling for an evidence session on the claims.

He said the issue was “even more relevant now within the context of the likely takeover of Newcastle United by a consortium backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund”.

Having spoken to DCMS chair Julian Knight, he added that it was “particularly pressing as the government refused to comment on the takeover to the committee recently” and said the hearing “ideally should be with the secretary of state [Oliver Dowden] and representatives from the Premier League”.

Broadcaster beoutQ has been illegally showing matches – mainly in Saudi Arabia – despite the rights in the region belonging to Qatar-based beIN Sports, which is in the middle of a three-year deal with the Premier League worth £400m.

Last year, football authorities attempted to shut the beoutQ service down without success.

Saudi broadcaster Arabsat has always denied that beoutQ uses its frequencies to show matches illegally and has accused beIN of being behind “defamation attempts and misleading campaigns”.

There is also a long-running diplomatic dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The chief executive of beIN Sport, Yousef al-Obaidly, has written to Premier League clubs and its chief executive Richard Masters about the issue.

But despite previous calls for the UK government to act, Dowden, the culture secretary, said it was a matter for the Premier League, which has written to the United States government urging it to keep Saudi Arabia on a watch list because the country “remained a centre for piracy”.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has also overshadowed the proposed takeover of Newcastle, owned by Mike Ashley for 13 years.

In the email, Watling asks:

  • “Whether the government, by allowing the sale to take place, is taking appropriate action to protect the value of UK sport?”
  • “Whether the government is taking seriously its manifesto commitment to instigate a fan-led review of football governance, including consideration of an owners’ and directors’ test which takes a holistic view of the health of UK sport?”
  • “What progress has been made since the statement to the committee on 8 May [2019] – almost a year ago – to stop Saudi Arabia’s beoutQ and protect creative industries such as the Premier League, Wimbledon, BBC and Sky?”

Watling also argues that the recovery of creative and sporting industries after the coronavirus outbreak would be helped if a solution to the piracy claims was found.

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