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Newcastle United Takeover director demands Government review investigates PL delaying tactics / no transparency

7 months ago

The Newcastle United Takeover is back in the headlines.

The (seemingly) never ending saga getting ever more frustrating for Newcastle fans,  as they see NUFC under Mike Ashley slipping ever further behind clubs that the Magpies should be capable of competing with, on and off the pitch.

The Premier League looking as ever to confound the hopes of both owner and fans that the club be sold to the Saudi led consortium.

Whilst fair to say nobody is losing any sleep over Mike Ashley having been prevented (so far) from adding the Newcastle United sale cash to his multi-billionaire fortune…This is a rare example of both fanbase and Ashley desperate for the same thing to happen.

Adding extra juice to the debate, Mike Ashley releasing a new statement (see below) on Thursday (1 July 2021), once again demanding that his legal moves against the Premier League are played out in public.

Then Friday night (2 July 2021) the NUST Board emailed their 14,000+ members a statement (also see below) backing up Ashley’s calls for the Premier League to allow transparency. Though NUST at the same time, absolutely correctly, pointing out the sheer hypocrisy of Mike Ashley decrying a lack of transparency where Newcastle United are concerned…

Now one of those involved in the attempted Newcastle United Takeover, has added his voice to the calls for Premier League transparency.

Mehrdad Ghodoussi is a Director / Partner at PCP Capital Partners along with his wife Amanda Staveley, both of them of course key figures in the attempted NUFC takeover, along with the Saudis and the Reuben Brothers.

On Saturday, via his Twitter account, Mehrdad Ghodoussi declaring about the behaviour of the Premier League:

“Delay tactics, zero transparency. Fans deserve better.

Tracey Crouch, please look into this. #NUFC”

Tracey Crouch is the former Sports Minister and still the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford.

Most relevant though, she is the chair of the Government’s fan-led review into football.

Here’s hoping that she is listening and that the fan-led review will lead to the Government putting real pressure on the Premier League to act in a fit and proper way.

Starting with giving a close look at how the Premier League have acted with regard to the attempted Newcastle United takeover.

NUST (Newcastle United Supporters Trust) Official Statement – 2 July 2021:

‘The Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) believes in transparency for football supporters.

We delivered this message to Richard Masters in summer 2020 and, more recently to Tracey Crouch MP, Chair of the fan-led review into football governance, announced by the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.

Richard Masters insisted to the Trust that the Premier League has the best interests of Newcastle United at heart when considering submissions made to its ‘Owners & Directors Test’. Yet the Premier League provides no transparency on matters relating to the most important decision (or reluctance to take a decision) involving Newcastle United in decades.

The Premier League told the Trust it looked forward to the day it could provide more clarity on what turned out to be a terrible summer for Newcastle United fans.

Where is their promised transparency? We expect more from the Premier League as it continues to let Newcastle United fans down.

The Premier League previously spoke about confidentiality during confidential processes (the submissions involving their Owners and Directors Test). From a supporter’s perspective we cannot understand why there needs to be confidentiality if both Newcastle United and the consortium trying to buy the club agree to make everything public. For who then must there be confidentiality?

It raises questions about who the Premier League is trying to protect by not releasing information. It leads us to the conclusion that it is not Newcastle United or Newcastle United fans that were being protected in the Premier League Owners and Directors Test.

The time for self-preservation should be over. We agree with Newcastle United’s demand for transparency and that the arbitration process involving the two parties should be made public. The club have our full support on this matter.

It however cannot be ignored that Newcastle United calling for transparency is a grotesque spectacle considering the consistent actions of both the owner and those he employs to run the football club.

We look forward to transparency from Mike Ashley, Justin Barnes (has he passed the Owners and Directors Test?) and Lee Charnley on matters relating to (in no particular order); the sale of the lease for land belonging to the club on Strawberry Place, the club’s humiliating defeats in court to club legends at the tribunals for Kevin Keegan and Jonas Gutierrez, the failure to refund supporters in a timely manner for money unnecessarily taken from them throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the club failing to engage in its own tailor made supporter dialogue process since December 2019 and finally why Newcastle United is run as it is currently – without hope or ambition or direction.

Those with positions of authority and power at both the Premier League and Newcastle United continue to fail Newcastle United supporters. We need them to do better.’

Mike Ashley Official Statement released via NUFC regarding Newcastle United Takeover arbitration – 1 July 2021:

‘The Club continues to receive requests for updates on its current arbitration claim against the Premier League (‘EPL’) considering the lawfulness of the EPL’s decisions regarding the proposed takeover of the Club involving the PIF.

Unfortunately, the Club is unable to make any comment about the arbitration. The EPL Rules provide the entire arbitration process is confidential.

However, both parties can agree for it to be in public. The Club believes it should be.

The issues at stake, including the lawfulness of the EPL’s decision making process and the widely publicised alleged influence of the EPL’s commercial partners on the EPL’s decisions, are of far wider interest to other football clubs, fans and the public in general.

The recent attempted breakaway by some EPL clubs – and the reaction of the government and public to it – has again highlighted the need for transparency and fairness in football governance. Gone are the days when important decisions that affect clubs and their fans should be made secretly, behind closed doors and away from the public eye.

The Club has nothing to hide with respect to the arbitration and invites the EPL to agree that it should no longer be held behind closed doors. If the EPL has acted lawfully and properly, it should have no reason to be afraid of the public spotlight.

To date the EPL has strongly resisted any public scrutiny of its decision-making process. It tried, and failed, to prevent the High Court’s judgment about elements of the arbitration being published last February. It is currently attempting to prevent the competition courts considering a claim by the Club’s sellers from taking place in public, arguing that too should be held in confidential arbitration.

So the Club has invited the EPL to agree – as the claim raises such important issues of sports governance, transparency and openness – that it should be held in public. The Club is prepared for every stage of the process to be in public: the public should be able to see the parties’ evidence and arguments as well as the full decision of the Tribunal when it is made.

The government quite rightly threatened to intervene in reaction to the proposed breakaway from the EPL earlier this year, and the reaction of football fans and the wider public was instrumental in stopping the emergence of the European Super League (ESL).

If the EPL continues to insist that the Club’s claim must be determined behind closed doors, the Club asks that MPs, the government, the media and the general public call on the EPL to finally accept public scrutiny of its decision-making process.’

Mike Ashley’s original Newcastle United Takeover arbitration Statement – 5 March 2021:

‘NUFC v EPL public statement to be considered following publication of the two judgments:

Today the High Court handed down judgment in NUFC’s application to have the Chairman of the Arbitration Panel under the Premier League’s (‘EPL’) Rules removed from hearing its claim concerning the proposed takeover of the Club. The Club asked for the Chairman to be removed on the ground of apparent bias.

The Club made the application because two weeks after the Chairman had been appointed the lawyers representing the Premier League, Bird & Bird, disclosed information that the Club had previously been unaware of. In particular, Bird & Bird disclosed that the Chairman had provided confidential advice to the EPL in 2017.

Although the advice was not provided to the Club, the Club was informed that the Chairman had advised the EPL on amendments to its ‘Owners and Directors Test’ (‘OADT’) in Section F of its Rules. Shortly after the Chairman provided that advice in 2017 the Rules were changed to prevent a foreign owner involved in alleged broadcasting piracy from passing the test.

This information concerned the Club given the following context: in a much publicised letter to EPL clubs in April 2020, BeIN Sports called for the EPL to “strictly apply” the OADT to prevent the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, PIF, from being involved in the takeover of the Club because BeIN alleged that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (‘the KSA’) was involved in broadcasting piracy. Later that year, the EPL decided that the KSA controlled the PIF and was therefore a ‘Director’ under its Rules. The Club disputes this analysis and brought an arbitration to reverse the decision. As today’s Judgment records, the Club’s case is that the arbitration is wider than simply the definition of ‘Director’ and part of the Club’s challenge is to the lawfulness of the EPL’s approach when considering the takeover.

The Chairman had also failed to disclose, when he was appointed, that he had previously been appointed by Bird & Bird and, in the last 3 years, had been an arbitrator in 12 cases involving Bird & Bird. When challenged by the Club, prior to the High Court claim, the Chairman did not agree to step down. The Club’s concerns were heightened when he then engaged in unilateral communications with Bird & Bird about the Club’s challenge, which is expressly against the EPL arbitration rules. In his private emails with the EPL’s lawyers he asked if they wanted him to carry on as Chairman, and he later explained that if they had asked him to step down he would have done so. The private email exchange was only disclosed after Bird & Bird suggested it should be.

Although the Court was critical of these communications, describing them as an “error of judgment” the Court refused the Club’s application to remove the Chairman on grounds of apparent bias.

The Club is disappointed with the Court’s judgment on this issue. As noted at the end of the Judgment, the Club submitted that the Judge did not address all of the Club’s arguments. The Club is committed to the speedy and fair determination of its claim so that the proposed takeover can go ahead as soon as possible. However, it felt it had to make this application given the need for the dispute to be determined by way of a fair process. The Club is considering whether or not to pursue an appeal.

The Club argued for the hearing to be in public but lost on that argument. The Club also wanted the Judgment to be published, even though it was dissatisfied with the outcome. Meanwhile, the EPL attempted to prevent it from being published at all. The EPL said that if it was published it should be heavily redacted and anonymised so that readers would not be able to identify the dispute. Unfortunately, this is consistent with the EPL’s lack of transparency over the takeover. The Club won on this point. The Judge rejected the EPL’s arguments and said there was a “public interest” in publication of the Judgment. The Club welcomes the fact that at least its supporters, and the wider public interested in the takeover and the dispute, will now be able to have some information about the process.

The Club shall continue to actively pursue its claim in the arbitration and calls on the EPL to resolve the matter in a speedy and transparent way that does not prevent the substantial investment into English football, and the North East region, that the proposed takeover would bring.’

(To join 14,000+ other fans as members of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust go HERE)


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