The past few days have seen Newcastle United fans venture into uncharted territory. As the completion of a potential takeover looms closer Newcastle’s potential new owners have been under scrutiny. Rightfully so, for multiple human rights violations as well as attempting to use Newcastle to sportswash.
This criticism has come from a host of sources, mainly individuals in the national media such as Oliver Holt, Miguel Delaney, and Richard Keys. However, as we get closer and closer to an announcement organizations are starting to openly criticize the potential purchase of the club and are calling for the deal to be stopped by the Premier League or the UK government.
One such organization is Amnesty International, a UK based humans rights organization with the mission of securing basic human rights for every individual on earth. Amnesty has been incredibly critical of the Saudi regime’s entry into the footballing world for some time now.
They were the among the first to criticize the PIF’s takeover of Newcastle, accusing Saudi Arabia of sportswashing, back in January.
Amnesty was pretty clear in their accusations, which set a precedent to how they would a address Saudi Arabian relations in football going forward. “It’s not for us to say who should own Newcastle United, but players, backroom staff and fans alike ought to see this for what it is – sportswashing, plain and simple,” said their UK head of campaigns, Felix Jakens.
This was followed up by reminding the world of Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations once Saudi Arabia announced they would be launching a women’s football league of their own.
In a statement the released on their website the group said
“In recent months, Saudi Arabia has worked hard at ‘sportswashing’ its reputation – trying to use the glamour of sport as a public relations tool to improve its international image, particularly following the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“This drive to improve the overall situation of women in Saudi Arabia can only be welcomed when it goes hand-in-hand with the inclusion of the brave individuals who fought for decades for this change. Instead, they are still locked up and undergoing trials as a form of repression, while those responsible for their torture in detention remain free.
Recently and most notably, Amnesty International published a letter to Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters calling for them to thoroughly investigate Saudi Arabia before allowing them to own a club in the Premier League.
The letter, written by Amnesty UK Director Kate Allen goes into some detail as to why they believe the Premier League should take a serious look into the multiple human rights violations committed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Arabia as a whole.
The full letter reads as follows
I believe there are serious questions to address in determining whether the owners and directors of the company seeking to acquire NUFC are meeting standards that can protect the reputation and image of the game.
If the Crown Prince, by virtue of his authority over Saudi Arabia’s economic relations and via control of his country’s sovereign wealth fund, becomes the beneficial owner of NUFC, how can this be positive for the reputation and image of the Premier League?
So long as these questions (concerning Saudi Arabia’s human rights record) remain unaddressed, the Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the Premier League and the global footballing community.
This letter was met with great scrutiny by many Newcastle fans as they felt Amnesty International was the latest organization to “attack the fan base for being happy about the sale of the club”.
The scrutiny was paired with fear, as this was one of the first times the criticism came from an organization who had reached out directly to the Premier League. Fears that the sale could slow down because of this letter began to arise, and for a moment there was panic on Tyneside that the deal could potentially get blocked.
The fears began to fade away swiftly as multiple journalists in the Northeast began to reassure NUFC supporters that the letter likely was not going to affect the Premier League’s process of determining whether the Staveley backed group was “fit and proper”.
Then on Wednesday morning, the fear that this letter would have any effect on the Premier League’s background checks into the potential new owners completely dissipated when a letter from Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters emerged.
In his response Masters assured Kate Allen that the Premier League is taking the necessary steps to ensure that any new owner is being properly screened.
Masters full letter back to Allen is as follows
“You will appreciate that these matters are often subject to media speculations but at their heart are due processes required by UK law and by the Premier League’s own rules, which can’t be conducted in public and on which we can’t comment.
“However, I can assure you that these processes go beyond those required by UK company Law and they are applied with equal rigour to every single prospective purchase of a Premier League club.”
Masters somewhat snarky response eased fears for fans immediately regarding the Amnesty International letter as well as a letter from Qatari owned beIN sports, who has raised concerns about Saudi Arabia owning a club in the Premier League.
BeIN Sports concerns regarding the takeover are purely for selfish reasons. The chief executive of the Qatar-based TV giant beIN Sport, Yousef al-Obaidly penned a letter to some clubs in the Premier League and Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters calling for them to to push against the new owners in order to protect their broadcasting revenue.
In his letter al-Obaidly accuses the Saudi Arabian regime of “facilitation of the near three-year theft of the Premier League’s commercial rights - and in turn your club’s commercial revenues - through its backing of the huge-scale beoutQ pirate service”.
The concerns surrounding the pirating of Premier League matches by beoutQ were raised last year, and nothing could be done to stop the service.
Saudi Arabia has repeatedly reiterated that they are not in any way assisting this private company in breaking the law. Take that with a grain of salt, as it is important to note that Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been in an international dispute and unfortunately Newcastle is going to likely suffer because of this.
Yousef al-Obaidly’s full letter to Richard Masters and the owners of Premier League Team is as follows:
“To the extent the reports about the acquisition of NUFC are correct, we consider it essential for the Premier League to fully investigate the potential acquirer of the club, including all directors, officers and other representatives from the KSA PIF or other Saudi Arabian entities involved in, or otherwise providing any financing for the acquisition.
“There appear to be several reasons why such an investigation is being called for by other parties; our request is purely based on Saudi Arabia’s past and present theft of your and your member clubs’ intellectual property rights.”
The Premier League must decide whether the group of investors backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund meets its owners’ and directors’ test and is understood to currently be in the process of working through paperwork connected to the deal, which could take two to three weeks.
BeIN have asked the Premier League in its owners’ and directors’ test to consider “the direct role of Saudi Arabia” in the beoutQ service, the challenge the Premier League faces in “taking any action to protect its own intellectual property rights in the country” and its ability to “enforce” its rules against “Saudi Arabian based persons or entities”.
Again, it seems as if the Premier League has taken this into consideration already and has likely already reached a decision as to whether they will or won’t allow the new owners into the Premier League.
New reports from the Telegraph surfacing late in the day Wednesday are making the claim that the potential new owners were sent some questions last week to answer, and so far there have been no red flags.
Additionally, with criticism of the deal rising the Culture Secretary for the UK Oliver Dowden had to clarify the UK government’s intentions regarding getting involved with the sale of the club. Dowden told the commons’ culture committee today the government will not get involved in the process, which Newcastle fans are celebrating as a win.
All in all, at this point it seems that an announcement of the sale should be happening soon because as it stands there is nothing preventing from this deal from happening.