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Saudi riches prevent Newcastle United, Premier League and Eddie Hearn seeing bigger picture

Anthony Harwood


 

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Edging closer: Newcastle are set to be sold in a £350m Saudi Arabia takeover

Edging closer: Newcastle are set to be sold in a £350m Saudi Arabia takeover

Getty Images

Eddie Hearn

Eddie Hearn

Getty Images

Edging closer: Newcastle are set to be sold in a £350m Saudi Arabia takeover

If Eddie Hearn had thought for a moment before he gleefully welcomed the proposed £350m Saudi Arabia takeover of Newcastle United, he might have considered the irony of the situation.

Here is a country which has been pirating football TV coverage on such an industrial scale that it's been costing Premier League clubs £1m a game, seeking to buy one of them.

Not only that but Saudi Arabia is also after a club which has just put its non-playing staff on furlough in the government job retention scheme due to the coronavirus pandemic.

How much those men and women, as well as those at Norwich, could have used the money which the Saudis have stolen by their illegal broadcasts of the top English league.

Obviously the promise of lifting that furlough at Newcastle is now being used as a sweetener by those seeking to take the club over.

But let's not forget those at Norwich and Bournemouth, who have just announced a U-turn on the policy due to fan pressure, but are still feeling the financial strain.

These clubs - like the Burnleys and Watfords of the Premier League - rely on TV money for nearly 90% of their income because they don't have billionaire Arab sheikhs or Russian oligarchs paying their players' huge wages.

Under the current trajectory, Saudi piracy will drive down the value of TV rights to an extent that clubs like these are losing £10m a year.

That is because Riyadh is pirating the broadcasts of beIN Sports, which pays the Premier League £328m to broadcast matches across the Middle East, but predicts it might cut what it offers by up to 50% because of the rising number of people who can now view the sport for free.

Piracy - which Saudi is a leading culprit along with China and Russia - was also a key factor in Sky reducing its payment to the Premier League from £4.1bn to £3.6bn, a 12.1% fall.

And the League is letting the Saudi government just walk in and take over one of its most famous clubs.

The Premier League has stayed silent despite calls for it to block the Newcastle takeover for failing its owners and directors' test.

In 2017 its rules were changed to 'conduct outside the United Kingdom that would constitute an offence' and they need to look no further than a European Commission report in January that accused Saudi Arabia of 'causing considerable harm to EU businesses' through its piracy.

However, reports that the Newcastle takeover is now a 'done deal' show the Premier League has decided to wave the deal through, but it remains to be seen whether any promises were made about ending its illegal transmissions.

These began in 2017 when a diplomatic row erupted between the Saudis and Qatar, where beIN Sports is based. The Saudis set up a rogue channel, called beoutQ, which has stolen everything from the Fifa World Cup to the Champions League and all the European leagues.

If the Saudis don't change their ways, the pressure from its piracy on the Norwichs, Bournemouths and Burnleys of the Premier League will only mount, something which will surely be deemed intolerable given the owner of a Premier League club is responsible.

Is all of this lost on Eddie Hearn, the Saudi's biggest cheerleader?

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Eddie Hearn

Eddie Hearn

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Eddie Hearn

 

It was he, of course, who took his boxer Anthony Joshua's re-match with Andy Ruiz Jr to Saudi Arabia in December for the 'Clash in the Dunes' bout that netted his fighter £66m.

Each time he sings Saudi praises saying sport has to realise that's where the money is, he also dodges questions about Saudi Arabia's appalling human rights record, calling them "well beyond my head as a sports organiser".

It's really not that hard, Eddie. Jamal Khashoggi murdered, women's rights activists in jail, 800 executions in five years, many for political opposition or being gay - and bombings in Yemen which have killed thousands.

In an interview last week, while enthusing about the Saudi takeover saying it will make Newcastle the "biggest club", he said this about dealing with Saudi Arabia:

"There are always concerns when you do international business but we got a lot of criticism.

"There was the human rights, etc, etc. All I can say was that our experience from start to finish was absolutely first class. Everything they promised us, they delivered."

Last week he was already talking about moving his fights overseas to combat postponements caused by the Covid-19 pandemic - with, yes, Saudi Arabia his favoured destination.

These include Anthony Joshua's heavyweight world title fight against Kubrat Pulev which was scheduled to take place at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on June 20, as well two others, one in Manchester and another in London.

"Some sports will start a lot sooner, in some countries, than others and Saudi could be one of the countries that gets on top of it sooner."

Why not just postpone the fights until the British public can enjoy them?

Wouldn't that be something for boxing fans to look forward to while everyone is cooped up in the lockdown?

Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail

Belfast Telegraph