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Saudi Newcastle United takeover issues prove to be far from Black and White

2 years ago

The Saudi Newcastle United takeover no longer seems to be a case of if, but rather when.

After 13 years of remaining stagnant under the reign of Mike Ashley, it seems as though his time is finally up.

The Ashley era has been plagued with ambition-less greed, St James’Park serving its duty as a large televised advertising board for Sports Direct.

During this time Newcastle were relegated twice, finishing in the bottom half far more frequently than in the top half and exercised an actual policy of deliberately not trying in cup competitions.

Prior to Ashley’s takeover, the club hadn’t ended up below 14th in the Premier League era, finishing in what is now termed a ‘Champions League spot’ (top four) five times (which is more than NUFC have finished in the top 10 since 2007). Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the prospect of fresh leadership and a much needed cash injection has caused a huge wave of optimism among many Newcastle United supporters.

The proposed £300Million takeover has been spearheaded by deal maker Amanda Staveley. Staveley is best known for her ties to Middle Eastern investors and played a key role in Sheikh Mansour’s purchase of Manchester City. Staveley will own a 10% share of Newcastle United, with the Reuben brothers taking another 10%. The 80% majority owner of the club will be the Saudi Arabian royal family’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). The PIF are reported to have current assets exceeding £250billion and are led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The deal would make Newcastle United one of the richest clubs in the world. However, Saudi involvement has been met with a storm of controversy, with Mohammed bin Salman at the epicentre.

The Saudi Arabian human rights record is questionable to say the very least. This prompted the human rights organisation Amnesty International to write a letter to the Premier League accusing the Saudis of using English football “to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the Premier League and the global footballing community.”

Amnesty International have been critical of Saudi Arabia for a number of years for issues including their involvement in the conflict in Yemen, where Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have resulted in at least 7,500 civilian deaths as of September 2019. Meanwhile, back in Saudi Arabia 184 prisoners were executed in 2019, including some who were children at the date of their offence.

One of the most controversial accusations levelled at the would be new owner Mohammed bin Salman, is the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a well-known Saudi Arabian journalist for the Washington Post and long-time critic of Saudi Arabia’s government. He fled the country to the US in 2017 and when visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey to collect documents necessary to marry his fiancée, was killed. The CIA concluded that Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the man who ordered the murder of Khashoggi.

In addition to the human rights issues, the Saudi Arabian government have been accused, mostly by beIN Sports, of facilitating the illegal streaming of Premier League matches, stating that “the future economic model of football is at stake”, with beIN Sports having paid £400Million for a three year PL deal covering the region.

Saudi Arabia has been accused of ‘sportswashing’, using Newcastle United, the Premier League and events such as Joshua – Ruiz 2, the Spanish Super Cup and Formula 1 as a vehicle to improve its poor reputation. Given the accusations levelled at the country, it’s hardly surprising that many don’t want to see the Newcastle United takeover happen. Despite this, 97% of supporters voted in favour of the Saudi takeover in the Newcastle United Supporters Trust survey of over 3,000 fans and there are many reasons as to why this is.

Clearly, Newcastle’s disappointing history under Mike Ashley is one of the key reasons as to why many fans would be glad to see new owners of any kind of takeover, even despite the accusations of Saudi abysmal human rights record. However, there is a huge level of hypocrisy in the criticism levelled at Newcastle fans for being excited at the prospect of Saudi investment.

For example, the UK’s international trade secretary insisted that the UK was committed to helping Saudi Arabia become a “global investment powerhouse”, with “a landmark ambition for around £65billion of mutual trade and investment opportunities” back in 2018. The Saudi total investments in the UK are already thought to be valued at over £60billion, so surely the £300million purchase of Newcastle United is fairly irrelevant in comparison?

With regards to the conflict in Yemen, many of the weapons used by Saudi Arabia are supplied by the UK. Despite the huge number of civilian fatalities, the US and UK have been supplying the Saudi led coalition with weapons while also providing diplomatic support. In fact, a former MoD mandarin and defence attache to Saudi Arabia and Yemen stated that the Saudi’s “couldn’t do it without us”.

Given that Saudi Arabian investment is already rife throughout the UK, with billions already invested, why is it that the supposed takeover of Newcastle United has caused so much uproar?

It seems as though the abysmal human rights record of Saudi Arabia should only be taken into consideration when football is involved. There is no doubt that such abhorrent violations should be called out for what they are, however, the takeover of Newcastle United is only the tip of the iceberg. There is also a credible argument that it would be better to work alongside the Saudis, helping them with social reform and improvement, rather than completely shutting the nation out.

Whichever way the you look at the situation, the issues surrounding the Saudi Newcastle United takeover are far from black and white.

On the one hand, the club has the potential to thrive under fresh investment, however, any success will be largely funded by the ownership of a highly controversial Saudi Arabian regime. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia have already invested billions into the UK economy, with much more to follow, so why should investing in a football club be any different?


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