The Premier League chief executive, Richard Masters, has hinted that the Newcastle takeover saga could be concluded shortly, but he was warned by MPs that it would be “humiliating” to allow a Saudi Arabian consortium to take over a club given the country’s record on piracy and human rights.
Masters, appearing in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, was repeatedly asked how the league could approve the deal when the World Trade Organisation had ruled that the Saudi state had facilitated the beoutQ pirate broadcasting that illegally showed games – and also blocked the Premier League taking legal action to stop it.
The SNP’s John Nicolson also pointed out that the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test would be considered bizarre if it gave approval to Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the chairman of the Saudi Public Investment Fund hoping to acquire an 80% stake in Newcastle, given his reputation.
“Louis Tomlinson, the singer from One Direction, found himself blocked when he tried to take over Doncaster Rovers,” said Nicholson. “He might be responsible for crimes against music. But the grizzly Prince Mohammed bin Salman was implicated in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, who was lured into the Saudi embassy and chopped up into little pieces. You could find Bin Salman passing the fit and proper test and taking over a club – that would be humiliating for you surely?”
Masters said he could not comment on that matter because it was a confidential process. However he pointed out that when it came to piracy, the Premier League had been robust in defending its rights holders.
“I think our views on what’s happened in Saudi Arabia around BeoutQ are on public record and obviously we were extremely frustrated with that process,” he said. “What we want – off the back of the WTO report and our own efforts and those of other sports – is for Saudi Arabia to respond positively to the situation and allow sports rights holders to protect their rights.”
Masters was also criticised by the Labour MP Julie Elliott for keeping Newcastle fans in the dark, given the process of approving the takeover – which was supposed to take three weeks – had taken more than three months.
“In a perfect world, takeovers would happen cleanly, clearly and in a timely fashion,” he replied. “Sometimes, things get complicated.”
Later Masters confirmed that he would “like the process to conclude shortly”, before adding: “Some takeovers are straightforward and others aren’t. But if they can find the right people for their football clubs, they will be allowed through, and if not the right people, they won’t.”
Masters also denied that the Premier League had been put under any pressure by the government to look favourably on the Saudi deal for Newcastle. “You are suggesting that we were put under pressure to go one way or another,” he said. “That has not happened.”