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8 Oct 2021

Human rights NGOs criticise Saudi-backed Newcastle Utd. takeover as “sportswashing” & criticise Premier League for “normalising” regime

As the long-debated Saudi Arabia-takeover of Newcastle United was confirmed this week, human rights groups criticised the club for facilitating sportswashing of the Saudi regime.

The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) now owns 80% of the club; the remaining 20% is split between RB Sports & Media and PCP Capital Partners. The Premier League stated it had received “assurances” from the PIF that the Saudi state would not be involved in the running of the club, despite Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman role as PIF Chairman.

FairSquare director James Lynch called the premier league statement on the takeover a “red herring” while Sarah Leah Watson, ED of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), said the decision “normalises a dictator who literally goes around butchering journalists”. NGOs ALQST and Freedom Forward also described the inseparable link between the Saudi state and PIF, which was also implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Ahead of the decision Amnesty International had urged the Premier League to conduct due diligence on the human rights records for new club owners ahead of potential takeovers. NGO Grant Liberty also criticised the Premier League for allowing the takeover.

In November 2021 it was announced that the Premier League CEO had agreed to meet with Amnesty Intl. to discuss the league’s existing owners’ and director’s test.

Later on in April 2022, six months after finalising the deal, Amnesty called on the Premier League again to put in place more rigorous human rights criteria for their teams to combat the still rampant sportswashing.

"Instead of allowing those implicated in serious human rights violations to walk into English football simply because they have deep pockets, we’ve urged the Premier League to change their owners’ and directors’ test to address human rights issues. “The phrase ‘human rights’ doesn’t even appear in the owners’ and directors’ test despite English football supposedly adhering to FIFA standards. We’ve sent the Premier League a suggested new human rights-compliant test and we reiterate our call on them to overhaul their standards on this."
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO