Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports has said that Saudi Arabia will soon lift a four-year ban on the channel and has promised to close pirate websites.
beIN holds the rights to broadcast the Premier League across the Middle East but Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Competition (GAC) suspended its channels in 2017 and “permanently cancelled” the broadcaster’s licence last year amid a bitter dispute between Riyadh and Doha, which was resolved in January.
“We have been informed that Saudi Arabia’s 4.5 year illegal ban on beIN SPORTS is going to be reversed soon,” beIN Media Group said in a statement.
Cafes and restaurants in the Saudi capital Riyadh have already started using satellite dishes to show games on beIN Sports channels since the diplomatic rift was ended.
“We have also been approached by Saudi for them to settle our legal cases, including our $1bn investment arbitration,” beIN’s statement added.
A court case, which has been brought by beIN under international arbitration rules and claimed more than $1bn in damages against Saudi Arabia, is still pending. The arbitration will be held in London.
The ending of the ban would remove a key obstacle behind the collapsed takeover of English Premier League (EPL) football club Newcastle United by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund (PIF).
Saudi Arabia’s ban was a key issue raised by critics of a proposed 305-million-pound ($414.4m) bid from the PIF, PCP Capital Partners and Reuben Brothers to buy Newcastle United from British businessman Mike Ashley in April 2020.
beIN, which counts Saudi Arabia as its biggest market in the region, said on Wednesday that the kingdom’s ban was the TV channel’s “singular objection” to the Newcastle takeover.
The proposed takeover collapsed last year with the consortium saying that the “prolonged process” and “global uncertainty” had “rendered the potential investment no longer commercially viable”.
Newcastle’s owner initiated legal proceedings against the Premier League earlier this year over the aborted takeover attempt that have been adjourned until early 2022.
Thaw in Qatar-Saudi relations
The beIN announcement follows a thaw in relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia after the kingdom along with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Doha over a number of allegations including that it was too close to rival Iran – accusations that Qatar vehemently denied.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, was last month pictured with Qatar’s emir and the UAE national security adviser.
Shortly afterwards, a football friendly was announced between Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain and players from two top Saudi clubs in Riyadh next year.
Last December, the EPL and beIN announced a new rights deal worth a reported $500m for the Middle East and North Africa region that will run until 2025.
British newspaper reports said 19 of the 20 EPL clubs supported the deal, with Newcastle the only club to vote against.
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