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Opinion

Newcastle United Takeover is part of ambitious Saudi 2030 plan – No justification for blocking it

5 months ago
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Mohammed Bin Salman and his Saudi Private Investment Fund are days away from their £300 million Newcastle United takeover.

The government of the United Kingdom or the English Premier League can block the takeover.

Human rights groups want them to. They should not.

In an open letter to the English Premier League, Amnesty International warned that:

“So long as these questions [of human rights abuses] remain unaddressed, the Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the Premier League and the global footballing community.”

Those are heady words. They’re tiring, too.

They are also wrong. To block the deal would represent an egregious double standard that jeopardises the credibility of sport to act as a vehicle for change.

Qatar Sports Investment owns French champions Paris Saint-Germain. Its chair, Nasser al-Khelaifi, was recently charged with corruption relating to Qatar’s hosting of the World Athletics Championships in 2019. He goes on trial in September. This is unrelated to their preparations for the 2022 World Cup, in which an army of 2.3 million slaves build futuristic stadiums meant to convince the world of their opulence and legitimacy on the global stage.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates owns Manchester City. He is also Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE and half brother to the President, amongst other titles. Human Rights Watch has accused his government, amongst other things, of “a sustained assault on freedom of expression”, while migrant workers “remain acutely vulnerable to forced labour”. In Sheikh Mansour’s UAE, homosexuality remains criminalised.

Wealthy Russians own Bournemouth, Chelsea, and Monaco. No objections were raised to Roman Abramovich’ ownership of Chelsea, despite his close professional affiliation and personal friendship with Vladimir Putin, whose thuggish regime’s extensive record of human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing, extrajudicial assassinations, and violations of international law remain amongst the world’s most grotesque.

Chinese entities own legendary Italian club Inter Milan, as well as five clubs in England’s top two tiers. Their operation of concentration camps for Uyghur Muslims, expansion of their surveillance state, oppression of basic civil liberties, and exportation of soft-power authoritarianism represent a far greater threat to global security than pirated sport streams.

As for the Saudis, Newcastle are hardly their first sporting adventure. Saudi prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad purchased a stake in English Premier League club Sheffield United in 2013 (then recently took full control), while the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia agreed to a strategic partnership with Manchester United in October 2017 (on top of the one with Saudi Telecom which has already been running for 12 years). Neither deal raised objections. Why should they now?

Is the Saudi-Newcastle venture an attempt at sportwashing? Probably.

It is also a part of Saudi 2030, an ambitious plan to diversify their oil-dependent economy and build a modern, dynamic perception of the Kingdom. Using 96 strategic objectives, the Saudis aim to transform their nation into a 21st century economy with a vibrant health infrastructure, education system, and tourist industry.

The Jamal Khashoggi story stunned the world. There can be no defending it. There is no defending the cracking down on dissidents, repression of women’s rights, and religious persecution so common in the Kingdom.

Defending human rights is a noble venture. It demands consistency. It has no room for hyper-moralistic virtue signalling. Until the powers-that-be demand the same standard from the Manchester Cities and PSGs of the world, they should not expect any moral pontificating to be taken seriously.

The Saudi Newcastle United takeover should go through. To block it would be to acknowledge a double standard representing a decade and several billion dollars’ worth of selective moral judgement. Its approval is hardly a full-throated endorsement of the Saudi regime. It is approving investment into a club, city and region so often ignored by the tides of change.

For the club and its global fanbase, a new chapter is about to be written. Do not patronise us for it. All our fathers have sinned.

Alexander is a Newcastle United fan from the USA and you can follow him on Twitter @astleger18

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