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Journalists and football fans must continue to highlight why Newcastle takeover is not right

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) are behind the £300 million deal.

Newcastle fans pictured celebrating the recent takeover.
Newcastle fans pictured celebrating the recent takeover.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

ESPECIALLY WHEN it comes to sport, the news cycle tends to be quite fleeting.

Last week’s big controversy is soon forgotten about.

People grow bored quickly and their attention shifts to another sensational matter.

Yet the Newcastle takeover feels far more serious and significant than the average sports story.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) are behind the £300 million deal.

Part of the motivation behind the takeover is of course financial.

“They are trying to diversify their economy away from oil and gas revenues,” football finance expert Professor Simon Chadwick recently told the BBC.

“What they are looking towards is generating a revenue stream that means Saudi Arabia is less dependent on oil.”

Nonetheless, the Premier League says it has received assurances that the PIF is separate from the Saudi state, while PCP Capital chief executive Amanda Staveley, who fronts the consortium, has reiterated this claim.

Yet the assertion has been repeatedly challenged elsewhere.

Of the eight men on the PIF board, six are Saudi ministers and another is an advisor to the royal court.

In an interview with Rob Harris of the Associated Press, James Lynch, director of human rights group Fair Square described claims of separation between the two as “laughable,” adding it was “something that can be established with just a few minutes on Google”.

Newcastle, of course, are certainly not the first club perceived to have close ties to a state. It is also true of Man City and PSG, who are owned by Abu Dhabi and Qatar respectively.

And while those states also have been heavily criticised for their human rights records and accused of ‘sportswashing,’ Saudi Arabia’s violent legacy is arguably the most troubling of all.   

A 2019 UN report concluded that “the state of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible” for the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and ardent critic of the state.

The Saudi Arabian government, meanwhile, continue to deny any involvement in the killing.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of Saudi Arabia’s king who leads the government and was accused of ordering Khashoggi’s murder, has tried to present himself as a reformer, lifting the ban on women driving in 2017 after he came to power.

Yet the state continues to be renowned for its poor treatment of women while homosexuality remains outlawed and according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, same-sex sexual acts are punishable by death.

English football has been lauded for its willingness to embrace the LGBT community through various campaigns, but such actions ring hollow in the context of recent developments.

Amnesty International UK went so far as to describe the takeover as “an extremely bitter blow for human rights defenders”.

And despite all of these matters, a Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust (NUST) survey suggested 93.8% of its members backed the move.

Even many of those seemingly aware of the problematic nature of the takeover often come across as lacking conviction on the matter.

Commenting on the news, Newcastle’s LGBTQ+ supporters group secretary Mark Bethan was quoted as saying: “As a bunch of fans, we don’t have any capability of changing things.

“We weren’t the decision-makers. We didn’t decide any of these things.”

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This claim that fans have no ability to influence football’s powers that be is contradicted by recent history.

Last season, when plans for a European Super League were announced, many supporters and members of the media quickly rallied against the idea.

The reaction was so strong that these plans were soon aborted and most of the clubs involved apologised for their actions.

This instance highlighted just how powerful journalists and football fans can really be if the will is there from enough people to properly challenge controversial proposals.

And when you really think about it, the prospect of a European Super League is trivial in comparison to strong allegations of murder and torture, so if the former is worth getting riled up about, then why not the latter?

Football fans and journalists with knowledge of these alleged injustices owe it to all those who have suffered in Saudi Arabia to persist in highlighting the issue and pressuring those in power, rather than treating it as just another typical, short-lived footballing controversy that will be effectively forgotten about in a week.

Premier League fixtures (3pm kick-off unless stated otherwise)

Saturday

Watford v Liverpool (12.30)
Aston Villa v Wolves
Leicester v Man United
Man City v Burnley
Norwich v Brighton
Southampton v Leeds
Brentford v Chelsea (17.30)

Sunday

Everton v West Ham (14.00)
Newcastle v Tottenham (16.30)

Monday

Arsenal v Crystal Palace (20.00)

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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