The Saudia Arabian led takeover of Newcastle United becomes increasingly likely as concerns are raised due to the state’s previous accusations of human rights abuse.
With the announcement looking hopeful for tomorrow, the takeover would involve Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) purchasing the club from current owner Mike Ashley, bringing the prominent retail figure’s 14-year ownership to an end.
The takeover had been in the pipeline for some time, but a major hurdle was prevented in the form of a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatari outlet beIN Sports, centred around allegations of piracy against the former.
However, in a bid to settle the controversy, this week it was revealed that Saudi Arabia has suggested that it will lift its ban on BeIN Sports, with the network having been unable to broadcast in Saudi Arabia for over four years.
BeIN Sports remains a dominant sports broadcaster in the MENA region after retaining the rights to provide coverage of the Premier League in the area in December 2020.
As reported by BBC Sport, Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK‘s chief executive, commented: “Ever since this deal was first talked about we said it represented a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football.
“Saudi ownership of St James’ Park was always as much about image management for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his government as it was about football.”
The Saudi business had previously withdrawn from the original deal last year after the Premier League ruled that the PIF consortium behind the takeover was too closely linked to the Saudi Arabian government – therefore failing to meet the criteria of the league’s owners’ and directors’ test.
This prompted Mike Ashley to consult legal assistance to take action against the Premier League, citing claims that the top-flight had ‘leaked the contents’ of a confidential letter regarding the proceedings to a supporters group.
However, the PIF has now been classified as a separate entity to the Saudi state, enabling the company to pass the top-fight’s owners’ and directors’ test and move forward with its plans to provide 80% of the £300m required funds to purchase Newcastle United.
Deshmukh added: “The phrase ‘human rights’ doesn’t even appear in the owners’ and directors’ test despite English football supposedly adhering to FIFA standards.
“We’ve sent the Premier League a suggested new human rights-compliant test and we reiterate our call on them to overhaul their standards on this.
“As with Formula One, elite boxing, golf or tennis, an association with top-tier football is a very attractive means of rebranding a country or person with a tarnished reputation. The Premier League needs to better understand the dynamic of sportswashing and tighten its ownership rules.”
Sky Sports News‘ North East Reporter, Keith Downie, expressed his excitement of a £300 million investment, and said: “It’s the news all Newcastle fans want to hear. The supporters have been desperate for a change for some time. Some were here last night, beeping their horns, trying to get a flavour of what was happening.
“It’s big money, they have a lot of money to spend, though obviously, they’re going to be guided by Financial Fair Play rules.”
The majority of Magpies fans will be grateful of the 18-month narrative drawing to a close, as the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust survey on Tuesday showed that 93% of its members were in favour of the takeover.