The human rights organisation Amnesty International has branded the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle United as a “clear attempt” to sportswash Saudi Arabia’s “appalling” human rights record.
It was confirmed today that a €350m-plus deal between the Saudi Public Investment Fund and embattled Newcastle owner Mike Ashley had been completed.
Naturally, this is music to the ears of long-suffering Toon supporters. Not only are they on the brink of getting rid of Ashley (one of the least popular owners in the history of English football), they are also set to become one of the richest clubs in the world. On the surface, it’s about as good a deal as any football fan could ask for.
However, Amnesty says that the controversial bid is as much about image management as it is about football. In a statement released to the PA news agency, Amnesty UK chief executive Sacha Deshmukh called on the Premier League to implement stricter ownership tests before sanctioning takeovers of this nature.
An amazing tweet. https://t.co/sMVpd0EFa7
— Graham Smyth (@GrahamSmyth) October 7, 2021
“Instead of allowing those implicated in serious human rights violations to walk into English football simply because they have deep pockets, we’ve urged the Premier League to change their owners’ and directors’ test to address human rights issues,” Mr Deshmukh said.
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 Premier League needs to better understand the dynamic of sportswashing and tighten its ownership rules.
The phrase ‘human rights’ doesn’t even appear in the (Premier League’s) 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.
It is believed that Saudi authorities’ decision lift their ban on Premier League broadcaster beIn Sports, while also clamping down on pirate websites, has encouraged the Premier League to sanction the proposed deal. A takeover attempt by the same Saudi-led consortium fell through in the summer of 2020, apparently due in part to the league’s concerns over these issues.
The Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund boast a net worth of €376 billion, around 10 times more than Sheikh Mansour of Manchester City.