Despite Amnesty International’s fears that the purchase represented “sportswashing” of the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record, a Saudi-led consortium completed the takeover of Premier League team Newcastle United on Thursday.
The English Premier League said it had resolved legal issues that had previously stymied the takeover and had acquired “legally binding assurances” that the Saudi government would not have control of the club.
The Premier League, Newcastle United Football Club, and St James Holdings Limited “have now settled the dispute over the club’s takeover by the consortium of PIF, PCP Capital Partners, and RB Sports & Media,” according to a statement from the Premier League.
“The club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect following the completion of the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test.”
“We are incredibly happy to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most iconic clubs in English football,” PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan stated.
“We appreciate the Newcastle supporters’ steadfast support throughout the years and look forward to collaborating with them.”
Alan Shearer, a former Newcastle and England striker, tweeted: “Yes “We can dare to hope once more.”
In April 2020, a consortium led by Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), PCP Capital Partners, and billionaire brothers David and Simon Reuben agreed to buy the club from controversial owner Mike Ashley for a reported £300 million ($408 million).
However, the contentious buyout proposal was sunk amid an outcry from Qatar-based beIN Sports, the Premier League’s key television rights holder.
Saudi Arabia banned the broadcaster in 2017 at the start of a diplomatic and transport blockade of Qatar, which ended in January. The broadcaster had earlier this year extended its rights to the English top-flight across the Middle East and North African region until 2025 at a cost of $500 million.
Tensions between the two countries have eased dramatically this year, with the Saudi ban on beIN set to be lifted, as well as Riyadh’s $1 billion arbitration claim against Qatar over pirate broadcasts to Saudi viewers by the BeoutQ network.
According to reports, the PIF, which is chaired by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, will take an 80% interest in the planned sale.
Despite frequent attendances of more than 50,000 at St. James’ Park, Newcastle has not won a major trophy since 1969.
Ashley has been immensely unpopular during his 14 years as manager, during which time the team has been demoted twice from the Premier League before returning to the lucrative top level of English football.
RECORD OF RIGHTS
However, Amnesty International has encouraged the Premier League to take Saudi Arabia’s human rights record into account.
“Today’s judgment demonstrates that English football is up for business when it comes to sportswashing,” Felix Jakens, Amnesty’s UK campaign director, told AFP.
“Amnesty International has said since the contract was originally discussed that it is a very evident attempt by the Saudi authorities to use the glitter of the Premier League to whitewash their awful human rights record.”
Following the gruesome murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate three years ago, Saudi Arabia faced international censure.
MBS was accused of approving the murder in a dossier leaked by US intelligence in February, which the Saudis fiercely refuted.
Newcastle, who are presently managed by former Manchester United defender Steve Bruce, are winless in their first seven Premier League games and are rooted to the bottom of the standings.
Manchester City’s transformation into a perennial winner since being taken over by Sheikh Mansour, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, in 2008 is the model for Newcastle to follow.
Massive investment at Newcastle would further exacerbate the race for the Premier League title and lucrative Champions League spots at the top.