In what is possibly the longest-running saga in Premier League history, it now seems likelier than ever that the Saudi Arabian Newcastle United takeover will go through. According to Alistair Magowan of the BBC, approval could come from the Premier League in the next 24 hours after the consortium proved the Saudi state would not have control of the club. Magowan then went onto report that the resolution between the two parties is not related to the piracy issue between Saudi Arabia and BeIN being settled.
The Qatari network has been unable to broadcast in Saudi Arabia for the last four and a half years as part of a diplomatic dispute, but the ban is set to come to an end.
Amanda Staveley’s consortium, in which the nation’s Public Investment Fund is the 80% majority shareholder, formally withdrew its €259m-plus bid to buy the club from Mike Ashley in July last year after waiting 17 weeks for the Premier League to make a decision under its owners’ and directors’ test.
The alleged piracy was one of the major stumbling blocks and the removal of that problem appears to have helped to resolve the other, the issue of the separation between the PIF and the Saudi state.
It is understood that discussions over the remaining obstacles have gathered pace and that significant progress has been made which could finally lead to a successful conclusion to an exhausting saga and an end to Ashley’s tenure at St James’ Park.
beIN is the legitimate Premier League rights holder in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and signed a new three-year deal last December understood to be on the same terms as the last agreement – around $500m (almost €432.5m).
As things stand, the club and the Premier League are set to enter arbitration over the takeover, with a separate competition law hearing confirming last week that the arbitration hearing would start on 3 January, although those legal wrangles could soon be rendered obsolete.
The Competition Appeals Tribunal heard last week that the league had been “improperly influenced” by beIN and rival Premier League clubs in its consideration of the takeover.
Daniel Jowell QC, acting for St James Holdings Ltd, said the broadcaster and the clubs’ “active lobbying” of the league “distorted the Premier League’s fair and objective application of the rules”.
The deal has also been criticised on the grounds of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
Amnesty International has previously warned the Premier League against becoming a “patsy” for Saudi attempts to sportswash its image.
Neither the Premier League nor Newcastle has commented on the latest developments, which came with unrest amongst Magpies fans mounting once again following a winless start to the new season which extends to seven Premier League games and eight in all competitions.
That has left head coach Steve Bruce firmly in the firing line with 94.3% of more than 5,000 respondents to a survey conducted by the Newcastle United Supporters Trust calling for the 60-year-old to resign.
What a change of ownership might mean for Bruce – there is no appetite within the current Magpies’ hierarchy to remove him from his post – only time will tell.