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Newcastle Saudi takeover exposes modern football’s seedy values

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A Qatar-based media firm has written to the Premier League and its clubs asking that the proposed takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia be blocked because of alleged breaches of regulations concerning broadcasting rights.

On the one hand, it’s a dry, legalistic sentence. On the other, it’s a sentence that makes you stop and wonder. When those original members of the Football Association met in the Freemason’s Arms near Covent Garden in London in December 1863 to draw up a set of amalgamated laws, was this what they thought their sport would become? When mill-workers and stonemasons and railwaymen were arguing for the right to be paid to play football 20 years later, was this how they thought it might turn out? 

Even a century after that, as Silvio Berlusconi began the negotiations that led to the foundation of the Champions League, surely nobody thought a club in the north-east of England (last league title 1926-27) would become a bargaining chip in the fraught politics of the Middle East.

And, of course, what would make the punchline all the more perfect were this to be the issue that blocks the deal, is that it would expose utterly the values of the Premier League and modern football more generally. Amnesty International’s protests about human rights barely raised a flicker, but when you start to threaten the revenue flow from overseas TV rights, that’s an entirely different matter. Bomb civilians in Yemeni markets? Dismember a journalist with a bone saw? Behead 37 people in one day, many after confessions apparently made under torture? Unfortunate, but nothing to do with us. Run a pirate TV station that broadcasts the Premier League? Absolutely unconscionable.

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