With Saudi buy of Newcastle in limbo, KSA moves to appeal WTO piracy ruling

By Samindra Kunti

July 30 – Saudi Arabia has appealed the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) ruling that it facilitated piracy of Premier League matches after the Kingdom had first claimed that the ruling had been in its favour. It is  a move that could impact on Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund’s (PIF) controversial bid to acquire Newcastle United.

In June, the WTO found that Saudi Arabia had actively supported the beoutQ pirate TV operation, which undermined the financial model of the entire sports rights industry. The 125-page WTO report concluded there was evidence that beoutQ was promoted by the Saudi government. As  a result, the ruling said that the Saudis were in breach of their obligations under international law.

Notwithstanding the WTO’s motivation, the Arab Kingdom claimed last month that the ruling was favourable, saying that it was “pleased with the outcome”, but in a letter to the WTO’s appellate body, Riyadh has made a u-turn and now says it rejects the WTO’s conclusion that the Premier League was stopped from taking action against the pirate broadcaster BeoutQ in the Saudi courts.

The Saudis thus contest the decision that the Qatari broadcaster beIN was unable to obtain legal counsel to enforce its intellectual property rights in Saudi Arabia. BeIN, rights-holder of numerous major sporting and football events in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and Europe, had long claimed beoutQ was stealing its signal and broadcasting it as its own.

BeoutQ began its piracy operations after Saudi Arabia led a blockade against Qatar in 2017, accusing its neighbour of “supporting terrorism”, a claim Qatar has always strongly denied. All beIN Sports channels were banned in the blockading countries and the broadcaster’s equipment was confiscated in Saudi Arabia.

The Guardian now reports that the Saudi ambassador to the WTO, Saleh Al Husseini, says the kingdom believes there are errors in the ruling which “it believes constitute serious errors of law and legal interpretation that need to be corrected”.

“Today’s development tells a different story, demonstrating that Saudi Arabia fully understands that it lost the case,” said Qatar’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry in a statement. “If Saudi Arabia had been ‘vindicated’ and was genuinely ‘pleased with the outcome’ there would be nothing for it to appeal.”

Saudi Arabia’s decision to appeal the decision could also further complicate the potential takeover of Newcastle United. The country’s Public Investment Fund wants to acquire an 80% stake in the Tyneside club, but PIF is chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, the controversial de facto ruler of the Kingdom. The Premier League continues to investigate links between the Saudi government and PIF, but has also been left frustrated by Saudi behavior over beoutQ.

“Having spent the past six weeks telling the world how the WTO ruling was a ‘complete vindication of the kingdom’, curiously Saudi Arabia is now appealing a case they say they emphatically won,” said a spokesperson for beIN Sports. “

“Rather than positively complying with international law, since June Saudi Arabia has lied to governments and rights-holders across world sport about the WTO ruling; it has said the Premier League, FIFA and UEFA sent their legal case to the wrong Saudi email address nine times; it has permanently banned the Premier League’s broadcast partner meaning the only way to watch premium sport is via piracy; and now it is appealing a WTO decision that they said they won.”

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1596907239labto1596907239ofdlr1596907239owedi1596907239sni@o1596907239fni1596907239