By Phil Blanche, PA
Amnesty International has urged Newcastle fans, players and staff to study Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record following the club’s controversial acquisition.
The world’s leading human rights organisation is also hoping that a forthcoming fan-led review strengthens the owners’ and directors’ test, which has again been brought into sharp focus by the Newcastle takeover.
A consortium led by Saudi-based Public Investment Fund were given Premier League approval last week to take control of Newcastle, sparking widespread criticism due to the Middle East country’s poor human rights record.
🗣 His Excellency Yasir Al-Rumayyan, Governor of PIF.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) October 7, 2021
Amnesty International has described the reported £305million deal as “an extremely bitter blow for human rights defenders”.
Ahead of Newcastle’s first Premier League game since the takeover, Amnesty International UK’s CEO Sacha Deshmukh told the PA news agency: “Whatever the result on Sunday, we wish Newcastle fans and their team well, but we remain deeply concerned about how our football clubs are being used for sportswashing.
“Football clubs being purchased for the purpose of trying to distract from serious human rights violations isn’t confined to Newcastle, and sportswashing isn’t confined to football – but the Saudi takeover has obviously brought the issue of human rights and football governance into sharp relief.
“Despite assurances about a supposed separation from the Saudi state, ownership of St James’ Park is now very much about image management for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his government.
“As the season progresses we hope fans, players and Newcastle United backroom staff will look seriously at the human right situation in Saudi Arabia and be prepared to speak out about the jailing of people like Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, whose 20-year sentence for tweeting was upheld just hours before the Newcastle deal went through.
“We’d like to see Tracey Crouch’s forthcoming review into football governance accepting the case for strengthening the owners’ and directors’ rules, to make them human rights-compliant and prevent those implicated in serious human rights violations from buying their way into English football.”
The Premier League approved Newcastle’s takeover after receiving “legally binding assurances” that the Saudi state would not control the club.
The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, is listed as chair of PIF, but the Premier League was satisfied the state would have no dealings with the club.
Amanda Staveley, the figurehead of the Saudi-backed consortium, welcomed the Premier League’s statement last week, saying: “They’ve made their views on the separation very clear. There is very clear separation between PIF and the Saudi state.”
Newcastle host Tottenham on Sunday with Steve Bruce seemingly set to take charge of the new owners’ first game.
It had been reported Bruce would be sacked before the game, with Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers and former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte among those linked with succeeding him.
But the club issued an operations notice on Thursday to say that Bruce would attend a media briefing on Friday afternoon.
Newcastle are currently second from bottom of the Premier League, without a win in their first seven games.