The Premier League wrote to the US government in February urging it to keep Saudi Arabia on a watch list because it said the country “remained a centre for piracy” regarding illegal broadcasts.
The revelation comes as the league considers a takeover of Newcastle that would involve the country’s public investment fund taking an 80% stake in the club. The buyers must pass the league’s owners’ and directors’ test, which looks at whether those involved have the funds to proceed and also whether they have been involved in anything found to be, or could be deemed to be, criminal activity.
It is understood the test is the final hurdle for the takeover consortium to clear before the £300m deal is complete.
A letter from the league to the US Trade Representative dated 5 February this year, which has been seen by PA, talked about the league’s ultimately unsuccessful attempts to take legal action against the pirate network beoutQ through the Saudi legal system and complains about a “failure to take action” against the pirates by the Saudi government.
BeoutQ illegally began to stream content licensed to beIN Sports, a Qatar-based company which holds the rights to Premier League football in the Middle East and north Africa, in 2017 until it ceased broadcasting in August 2019.
Arabsat, a satellite network owned by the Saudi state, has denied having any connection or involvement with beoutQ but the Premier League was highly critical of what it sees as a lack of action from the Saudi government.
The Premier League wrote: “Despite repeated complaints by beIN and other rights holders, Saudi Arabia has never brought criminal action against beoutQ, or its Saudi facilitators.
“Notably, the current offline status of beoutQ satellite broadcasting is not the result of any Saudi criminal enforcement action.”
The Premier League said beoutQ top boxes could still be used to access sports content illegally by using internet protocol television (IPTV) apps.
The letter ends: “In conclusion, Saudi Arabia continues to deny adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights, as (i) Saudi Arabia remains a centre of piracy, impacting rights holders from around the world; (ii) the Saudi government persists in its failure to take action against beoutQ and other pirates, whether criminal or otherwise, that would deter the continuing growth of Saudi-based piracy; and (iii) the Premier League remains unable to gain access to the legal system in order to seek civil remedies against piracy.
“In view of this long-standing situation, the Premier League respectfully requests that USTR maintain Saudi Arabia’s position on the Priority Watch List.”
The USTR has kept Saudi Arabia on its watch list, and confirmed in a report published on Wednesday: “The United States continues to remain concerned about reportedly high levels of online piracy in Saudi Arabia, particularly through illicit streaming devices, which right holders report are widely available and generally unregulated in Saudi Arabia.
“The United States encourages Saudi Arabia to increase IP enforcement actions and IP awareness campaigns particularly targeted at reducing online piracy and to combat the perception spurred by beoutQ’s activity that pirating copyrighted material is permissible.”
Amnesty International has warned the Premier League that it must also address serious concerns regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, or that it “risks becoming a patsy”.