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BeIn Sports: Saudi Arabia close to lifting ban, says broadcaster

Decision could allow Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund to take control of Newcastle Football Club
BeIn Sports said it had been approached by Riyadh to settle legal cases, including a $1 billion investment arbitration (Reuters)

Qatar's BeIn Sports said Saudi Arabia was planning to lift a ban on the broadcaster as Riyadh continues its bid to take control of Newcastle Football Club. 

In a statement on Wednesday, the sports media company said it had been approached by Riyadh to settle legal cases, including a $1 billion investment arbitration.

The sports company said that its "singular objection" to Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund's takeover of Newcastle FC was its ban on BeIn Sports. 

A person familiar with the decision also told Bloomberg that Saudi Arabia was close to making a decision in the coming weeks. The source warned that discussions were ongoing and could still fall apart.

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In 2020 BeIn Sports appealed to the Premier League and the chairmen of the top division’s clubs asking them to block the bid because of what it said was a threat to the broadcaster's intellectual property and income from piracy in Saudi Arabia, where the channel is currently banned.

If Saudi Arabia agrees to lift the ban, BeIn will be allowed to sell subscriptions for its sports content across the Gulf Kingdom. 

The move would also make it easier for an investor group led by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) to take control of Newcastle FC. 

BeIn sports has been opposed to a possible takeover of Newcastle FC by the Saudi PIF due to alleged piracy of its content in the region and its ban in Saudi Arabia. 

The person familiar with the discussions told Bloomberg that BeIn would no longer object to a takeover if the ban in Saudi Arabia was lifted. 

BeIn Sports currently holds the right to broadcast some of the world's biggest sporting events across the Middle East and North Africa. But the channel was banned in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries severed relations with Qatar in 2017. 

The PIF group, which also includes English financier Amanda Stavely and British billionaires Simon and David Ruben, abandoned a proposed $407-million takeover of Newcastle United in July 2020.

It blamed the decision on a lengthy approval process and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Rejected bid

Earlier this year, exchanges seen by the Daily Mail allegedly showed Mohammed bin Salman calling on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to "correct" the English Premier League's decision to block a Saudi bid to takeover Newcastle. 

Last September, Newcastle also confirmed that the Premier League had rejected the takeover bid and emphasised its disapproval of the process. 

“This conclusion has been reached despite the club providing the Premier League with overwhelming evidence and legal opinions that PIF is independent and autonomous of the Saudi Arabian government,” a club statement read.

In July 2020, Stavely said that the takeover failed partly due to the league demanding that the Saudi state become a director of the football club.