Saudi Arabia has appealed against a landmark piracy ruling, placing a fresh question mark on the proposed takeover of Newcastle by the country’s public investment fund.
Last month the World Trade Organisation issued a report which found representatives of the Saudi state had facilitated the activity of the pirate network beoutQ, which illegally broadcast a host of sporting events including Premier League matches.
Saudi Arabia initially claimed the WTO’s ruling was a vindication, but the WTO has now confirmed receipt of an appeal against it.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters, whose board is still considering the suitability of the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle under the league’s owners’ and directors’ test, was asked about the ruling when he appeared before MPs last month.
He told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee: ‘What the Premier League wants to do off the back of the WTO report and our own efforts and the efforts of other sports is for Saudi Arabia to respond positively to the situation and to allow sports rights holders to protect their rights.’
This appeal would not seem, on the face of it, to be the positive response Masters was looking for.
The league had sought repeatedly to take action against beoutQ through the Saudi courts but could not find anyone who would take the case on. In February it asked the United States Trade Representative to keep Saudi Arabia on a piracy watch list.
The WTO ruled Saudi Arabia must bring in measures to make it conform with international law around intellectual property.
In its letter of appeal the Saudi ambassador to the WTO, Saleh Al Husseini, says it disputes that complainants Qatar had established a case that beoutQ was operated by individuals or entities subject to Saudi criminal jurisdiction.
It also denies that Saudi authorities had enough evidence, before the WTO panel investigated, to apply criminal sanctions to those behind beoutQ.
The news of the Saudi appeal comes less than a month after the country permanently revoked Qatar-based beIN SPORTS’ licence to broadcast in the country.
That decision means that there is no legal means to watch Premier League football in Saudi Arabia until at least 2022.