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Opinion

Four wedded Saudi Arabia PIF football clubs and a Golf funeral – Featuring Newcastle United

9 months ago
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A busy 24 hours for Saudi Arabia PIF.

Newcastle United Chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan at the heart of it.

The start of this week seeing the Saudi Arabia PIF making serious giant strides forward in terms of its involvement in sport and how it operates.

In some ways nothing at all to do with Newcastle United, in other ways, everything to do with NUFC.

Back in October 2021 there was a total impasse with regard to the long running attempted Saudi Arabia PIF led takeover of Newcastle United, a deal that had become seen as impossible to conclude. Out of nowhere the takeover happened. After so long, the impasse broken when it turned out an agreement now reached by Saudi Arabia on TV piracy with beIN Sports, had been the key that also automatically unlocked the NUFC ownership change. Amanda Staveley credited with having been a key figure in keeping the whole deal /possibility alive, for Newcastle United fans to be at last rid of Mike Ashley and instead the arrival of an ambitious new ownership.

Last month (May 2023), it was widely reported that Amanda Staveley had been asked by LIV Golf to try and help improve the desperate situation that existed with the rest of the Golf tour.

Which had been quite handy, as the boss of LIV Golf, Yasir Al Rumayyan, had happened to be over in the UK / Newcastle Upon Tyne in the company of Amanda Staveley anyway.

The pair at St James’ Park alongside other Newcastle United directors, as Eddie Howe and his players were completing the job of finishing top four. That gathering last month on Tyneside, also claimed to have seen important talks take place to decide the strategy and scope of NUFC in the upcoming transfer window.

Anyway, a couple of weeks on from that gathering on Tyneside and yesterday, out of nowhere, suddenly the Golf crisis is sorted. A deal has been done to merge the PGA Tour and DP World Tour with LIV Golf, with Saudi Arabia PIF Governor (and Newcastle United Chairman) Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the Chairman of this new entity that will run Golf, as the sport moves forward.

As to how this deal came about, who helped set it up, it would seem to be a little far-fetched to believe that Amanda Staveley played no part in it, considering that only last month the media had collectively put the message out that this exactly was what she had been tasked to do. Maybe it was never thought that such a far reaching outcome was believed possible but certainly the Newcastle United director appears to have been involved in the process of this eventually happening. It would be very interesting to know exactly what was discussed last month at St James’ Park, whether that be Newcastle United, Golf, or indeed anything else in the sporting world…

Not content with changing the entire face of Golf on Tuesday, the Saudi Arabia PIF also announced on Monday that they had now taken controlling 75 per cent stakes in the four main football clubs in Saudi Arabia.

The clubs in the Saudi top flight, including Al Nassr, Al Hilal, Al Ahli and Al Ittihad, had all technically been owned by the country’s Ministry of Sport, now though privatised as part of a government initiative to help football further develop in Saudi Arabia. The country’s minister of sport said that the changes would help the domestic Saudi Arabia competition be among the top ten leagues in the world.

The Saudi Arabia PIF Twitter account stated on Monday 5 June 2023:

“As part of today’s announcement of the Sports Clubs Investment and Privatisation Project, four Saudi clubs – Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr, and Al Hilal – have been transformed into companies, each of which is owned by PIF and non-profit foundations for each club.”

As well as the Saudi Arabia PIF four majority owned clubs, another quartet will also come under the control of other companies that are backed by the state. Aramco will buy a stake in Al Qadsia, Neom has acquired ownership of Al Suqoor FC. The Driyah Gate Development Authority and Royal Commission for Al-Ula Governorate have also separately invested in Al Diriyah Club and Al Ula Club respectively.

The official Saudi Arabia PIF announcement added:

“The transfer of the four clubs will unleash various commercial opportunities, including investment, partnership and sponsorships across numerous sports.”

The Saudi Arabia government has stated that these new moves are part of a wider approach, which they hope will help lead to far greater participation in sport at grassroots level.

Predictably, many analysts have also made the point that this is part of an even greater picture / jigsaw when it comes to sport. Saudi Arabia having long made it clear their dream is to host a World Cup ASAP.

I have seen various reports, wanting to make it into a story of this being the start of the Newcastle United owners having a multi-club format, as Man City and many others do. However, I think that it is a little bit simplistic and indeed. factually wrong. I think what has happened on Monday with regard to domestic football in Saudi Arabia isn’t in any way the start of a multi-club NUFC model. Though I do think that multi-club model is inevitable where Newcastle United are concerned.

Instead, I think that simply Newcastle United is part of some vast jigsaw, some far wider plan / approach, that Saudi Arabia / Saudi Arabia PIF are implementing.

It isn’t a case of all these strands necessarily been tightly tied together, rather a looser collective of decisions and initiatives that will be mutually beneficial to the Saudi Arabia PIF and by direct association, the wealth, influence, prestige of Saudi Arabia.

Whilst some simplistically want to talk just of ‘Sportswashing‘ and this surely somewhat bizarre notion of owning Newcastle United and other sporting institutions purely to try and deflect from human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.

The actual truth is far more complex and in reality, is simply about the things that pretty much every other major football owner is after. A combination of some / all of a drive for money, influence, prestige, power, success and so on.

In 2016 the concept of Saudi Vision 2030 was first launched, this strategy is a long-term vision to diversify the economy and transition the country away from its reliance on fossil fuel extraction and oil exports, toward a low-carbon future.

The money that Saudi Arabia generates currently, is being used to invest in all kinds of diverse businesses / initiatives around the globe, to help ensure that future prosperity and influence. This includes sporting initiatives / investments.

The likes of Newcastle United falls into two camps, a brilliant business investment as evidenced by the fact that the club is now worth many times what the Saudi Arabia PIF led consortium paid for it, whilst at the same time NUFC can also play a major part in delivering power / prestige / influence in a sporting context for Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia PIF is the country’s key way of delivering that 2030 Vision.

The thing is, there are numerous other states / countries doing the same, in terms of using money currently generated by the likes of oil and gas, to invest in diverse other projects / businesses. The Saudi Arabia PIF isn’t even anywhere close to being the biggest PIF, Norway’s PIF currently has assets of around twice as big as the Saudi one, as they use their oil and gas cash to invest in the future.

Heading back to St James’ Park, the title of my article is a clumsy distortion of that 1994 film… ‘Four wedded Saudi Arabia PIF football clubs and a Golf funeral’ (Featuring Newcastle United).

We are in the middle of this massive Saudi Arabia PIF jigsaw and in truth, none of us know exactly what part Newcastle United is set to play in all of this, what the plans are for the short, medium and long-term.

However, everything points to Newcastle United as a sizeable piece of the Saudi Arabia PIF jigsaw, especially when it comes to football and sport in general.

I think beyond doubt we are going to see serious long-term investment in our football club, especially the infrastructure that was neglected for so long and left to rot by Mike Ashley, as well as massive investment in the wider sense – city / region and so on.

How much we learn along the way, of exactly where Newcastle United fits into the far bigger picture / jigsaw, will be intriguing. However, the (only?) important thing, as always, is how NUFC operates as a football club.

On that front, this Newcastle United Saudi Arabia PIF led ownership couldn’t have done better, as today marks exactly 20 months since the 7 October 2021 takeover. Long may that continue.

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