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‘An open letter to the Newcastle United owners’

2 weeks ago
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FAO Newcastle United owners

C/O Amanda Staveley

St James Park, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 4ST

An open letter to the Newcastle United owners:

Amanda,

I write this with no real expectation that you’ll ever actually set eyes on this, I’m not sure if open letters like this work for the likes of me, but I wanted to write this openly for everyone else to read. I have a lot to say that I do think needs to be said.

Can I, first of all, thank you for working tirelessly these last four years to acquire Newcastle United. From a fan’s perspective, I’ve been following your attempts to buy it since the day you attended the home game vs Liverpool in October 2017. Since then, to me, you represented the biggest and ultimately the only chance of ending Mike Ashley’s regime at Newcastle. I’ve been behind you all the way. And now that you’re here, I’m behind you as the public figurehead of what will hopefully be a long and happy association with our club.

Because what you have done is you have reinvigorated the whole club. It feels like a football club again. When we celebrated “getting our club back”, it was a celebration of renewed hope of once again being supporters of an ambitious Newcastle United. It’s not just you, of course. It’s the decisions you and Mehrdad and Jamie, as the people who manage the club day by day, have made. It’s not been easy. There have been mistakes made along the way. But you brought in Eddie Howe, allowed him to bring his own team, sanctioned some important signings, and slowly but surely the tide has turned. But the bottom line is everyone from the fans to the top of the club is aligned from a sporting point of view and that is wonderful.

For all of these reasons and more, you have my full support.

However. It is also an inescapable fact that in order to finance the deal that made a lot of Newcastle fans (including myself) very happy, you brought the Public Investment Fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) to the table.

The PIF is the Sovereign Wealth Fund of KSA; one of the biggest most egregious human rights abusing states in the world. Through their fund, they have investments in some of the biggest names in the world of Sport and Business. Newcastle United is one of the most recent and famous examples.

Human Rights advocates and groups around the world have warned Newcastle United fans against this deal. That we should resist it and not welcome the investment, the funding, and any sporting success that might come about from it. Because if we’re all honest with ourselves, there is something a lot more important to consider. The accusation is that Saudi Arabia is using the image and potential of Newcastle United (and other assets in its portfolio) to distract its fans from the human rights abuses they perpetuate; the word for which is Sportswashing.

1. In March 2022 alone, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed 81 people in a single day; many of who were simply Anti government of the land protestors although the reason they were killed is not relevant. The news this was done left me feeling tremendously uncomfortable indeed.

2. It is also widely reported that the Chairman of PIF, and the Crown Prince of KSA, Mohammad Bin Salman ordered the brutal torture and killing of Jamal Khashoggi when he entered the Turkish embassy.

Now I don’t claim to speak for other Newcastle United fans but when I hear of acts like this and others like it in the recent history of KSA it makes me feel uneasy, to say the least. But it does, I suspect, leave all those who love the club searching their souls. This is what our club is tied to now.

We can all look the other way when we sign a star player, or win one football match and we’re united in joy. Or even, if such good fortune comes our way, we win a trophy. Those are things I hope our fanbase will enjoy. But when the actions of the country who now do undoubtedly own our club (we all know this is true, in spite of the Premier League statement), it puts the issue of human rights abuse into focus. And it cannot be ignored. It will be entwined with our club for as long as the PIF is part of it.

So here I am. A lifelong supporter of Newcastle United trying to shine a light on human rights abuses of our now majority Newcastle United owners while still supporting the club. What the purpose of this letter is I’m not really sure. As I say, I’m not even sure if this will ever reach you. It’s easy to write letters like this. It’s easy to look the other way and concentrate on the football. Not everyone who cares about these matters and supports Newcastle United has the gumption to do anything lasting and meaningful about it. So is this lip service? Is it just something to make me feel better? That I’m feeling like I’m doing something about it? Have I said too much, or not enough? Have I asked enough searching questions? Probably not.

I’ve made it quite clear in my own mind I wanted the takeover to happen so it’s not as if I’m in a position of high ethical authority myself. I was “bought” from the moment the Wall Street Journal broke the story. I cannot square that circle. And all Newcastle fans will have this with them as time goes on.

I am not, yet, calling for the removal of PIF’s association with Newcastle United. I only have a few asks and hopes for the months and the years ahead.

First and most crucially let’s not pretend this is not Sportswashing. The very least we can all do is acknowledge it and keep this truth in mind when it comes to our attention.

Please continue to respect the traditions and values of not only the football club but of the country. Let’s make it clear that Newcastle United Football Club in no way encourages or endorses any kind of abuse, discrimination or wrongdoing.

Is there a way we can use the association of the PIF and by extension KSA with Newcastle United to be a force for lasting and profound change in Saudi Arabia? That is my hope. This takeover might bring success to the club, but if it can do that, then that is the real victory, is it not?

Jonnie Grieve – Newcastle United fan

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