Saudi Arabia recently joined neighbours UAE and Qatar in the ownership of premier European football clubs by acquiring Newcastle United. The acquisition changed the equation of international football, sparking several debacles about the identity and competitiveness of the sport.
The biggest question surrounding the takeover is regarding the Premier League’s fit and standards test, which prevents individuals accused of being involved in fraudulent activities from owning a football club.
The official argument from Newcastle United is that the club is owned by the Saudi Public Invest Fund (PIF) and not the Saudi state. However, experts and people familiar with the deal claim that this statement is “nothing short of a joke.” News of the Saudi takeover garnered mixed reactions from the public, and fans believe this changes the Premier League landscape.
The Premier League, in a letter to Newcastle United last year, stated that the PIF is “under the direct control of the Saudi government” and it “serves the state’s national interests.” However, in a complete turn of events, the league now claims that it has received “legally binding assurance” that the Saudi government will not play any role in the PIF.
Analysing the Reasons Behind Saudi Arabia’s Sudden Interest in Football
The acquisition might have been influenced by broadcasting rights. Back in 2017, Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the UAE, severed diplomatic relations with Qatar and prevented Qatari businesses like beIN from operating on Saudi territory. beIN Media has exclusive broadcasting rights for the Premier League in the middle east at the time.
The Saudis silently supported a cheekily named pirate broadcaster called beoutQ that was illegally streaming Premier League in the country. Since broadcasting revenue is extremely lucrative for the league, the management refused to sell the broadcasting rights to beIN Media until the problem was resolved.
The Saudis agreed to make peace with Qatar after Biden’s arrival at the White House in January 2021. They promised to revoke the ban on beIN and blacklist beoutQ. The Premier League announced a takeover bid months later, proving once again that money trumps integrity every time in the world of commercial football!
Why do Fans Oppose this Takeover?
One of the major concerns that the fans have about the takeover is a rerun of the episode when Abu Dhabi acquired Man City or Roman Abramovich’s takeover of Chelsea. In simple terms, the sudden influx of wealth would blow the other teams out of the water and ruin the cash-strapped league’s competitiveness.
To put that into perspective, Newcastle is already considering acquiring high-value players this season. However, experts believe that this is an exaggeration and despite the wealth inflow, the Premier League is as competitive as ever. More money will only inspire the teams to play harder for the title.
Wealthy clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City can afford players just as easily as Liverpool, for instance. However, cash-strapped clubs can’t afford to make as many mistakes as the teams under Middle-Eastern ownership!
Diplomacy and Sports
Owning a football team gives the proprietor political control. NBA in China is the best example of how sports is the perfect political currency. For example, after Enes Canter of the Boston Celtics publicly criticized China for its Tibet policy, streaming service Tencent cut the live broadcast. Chinese social media was flooded with slogans against the team within 24 hours.
From broadcasting to global sports betting, the entire world can be influenced within hours in the social media era, causing massive financial devastation to a few. Hence, no one likes to be at the receiving end.
For instance, sports betting sites like bettingoffers360.co.uk can suffer massive losses if a group of punters suddenly back out due to political concerns. Many people, including the government, would incur financial losses in taxes as a direct result.
The Saudis claim that the acquisition is in line with their policy of diversifying business interests from oil. However, experts question this claim as there are hardly any financial benefits to owning a major league sports team.
The Saudis could use their growing influence on international football to portray Doha or Riyadh as lucrative destinations for hosting games in the future. Hence, while the economic merits of owning a football team are questionable, there are several intangible benefits.
How the turn of events affects Newcastle’s future is yet to be determined. But judging from current statistics, things don’t seem too bland. The club is already looking at several acquisitions, including top performers from the Premier League.
What Does This Mean for Football Fans?
At the end of the day, there is no denying the fact that football is stuffed with dirty money. The situations are all intertwined and if you closely follow the money trail, a lot of human rights violations across the world are bound to be uncovered.
Sports have always been a way of mass distraction and the strategy has been used incessantly in the past. With Saudi Arabia entering the picture, the players have changed but their means remain the same.