By Atakan Uzun
The takeover by the Saudi-backed consortium of Newcastle United football club has received backlash from many human rights groups and some football managers. Human rights organisation, Amnesty International has criticised the takeover and branded it another example of ‘sports washing’ by the Saudi state. Meanwhile, Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp has questioned the silence around human rights concerns associated with this takeover by the Saudi consortium and has branded them, the newest footballing ‘superpower’.
This takeover was approved in October and ended Mike Ashley’s torrid rein and ownership of the club, which he bought in May 2007. Throughout his time as ownership, he faced severe criticism from the Newcastle FC for not providing the adequate transfer budget funds to spend that would invest and improve the squad. This was notably present during the tenure-ship of Rafael Benitez as the manager of the club. The club’s best finish throughout the Ashley era, was 5th in the 2011/2012 season, under Alan Pardew.
The Saudi-backed takeover consisted of £300 million and received the approval of the Premier League after almost 18 months after it was first proposed. According to news sources, the key aspect to the approval of the takeover was assurances that were given, which ensured that while the Saudi Public Investment Fund may have had an involvement in the takeover bid, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman would not be responsible for the running of Newcastle FC on a day-to-day basis.
According to a statement by the Premier League, in October, ‘all parties are pleased to have concluded this process which gives certainty and clarity to Newcastle United Football Club and their fans. Contrarily, the commerce minister of Saudi Arabia, Majid bin Abdullah had a key involvement in pursuing the takeover and will occupy a seat on the club’s board. The Saudi consortium will own 80% of the club, while 10% is owned by billionaire businessmen and international property developers, Simon and David Reuben, and the final subsequent 10% is owned by Amanda Staveley, who is a Yorkshire-born, and largely a Dubai-based financier. One of the first moves of the new ownership has been to sack the manager, Steve Bruce, who leaves with the club in the relegation zone and ends his turbulent and fractious period as manager, since 2019. At the time of writing, the first team coach of the club, Graeme Jones, has been appointed on an interim basis.
While the Newcastle FC fans are understandably ecstatic about the new ownership’s plans, particularly after suffering under the Ashley era, human rights concerns continue to be hidden away from the public eye. This is the latest example of sports washing by the Saudi state, which seeks to divert away from the legitimate human rights concerns that are being raised about its abominable treatment of women and homosexual people.
Every minute that a Newcastle FC fan spent celebrating the Saudi-backed takeover, could have been a minute in Saudi Arabia where executions have taken place against opponents of the regime, where journalists are being impeded from doing their job and where women and homosexual people face severe difficulties in their daily lives. This takeover is bad news for the Premier League, bad news for football, and bad news for marginalised groups throughout the regime in Saudi Arabia.