A group led by Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Investment Fund completed its purchase of Premier League soccer team Newcastle United on Thursday, allaying objections to the search for a place as an owner in one of the world’s most prominent sporting events. To move fast.
The sale quickly turned Newcastle, an under-achieving club whose home away from the power centers of European football in the north of England, is theoretically one of the world’s richest teams, funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Backed by the assets of a vehicle. Which controls assets worth $500 billion.
But it also raised new questions about the economics and ethics of allowing a nation state, and in particular an accused serious human rights abuses, in the elite club of Premier League owners.
The announcement that the Saudi Arabia-led conglomerate had acquired full control of the club from its previous owner, retail tycoon Mike Ashley, came days after Saudi Arabia resolved a hurdle that blocked a similar deal last year. .
Since 2017, Saudi Arabia has not only blocked Qatari sports network beIN Sports – one of the Premier League’s most lucrative broadcast partners – from operating within its territory, as part of a wider dispute between the two countries. , but has also been accused of both hosting and running rogue networks that pirated BIN’s content.
Last year, as a Saudi-led bid to take over Newcastle was gaining momentum, beIN Sports sought the Premier League’s refusal to approve the takeover. Eventually, the Saudi Federation withdrew its offer before the Premier League could make a definitive decision.
But when it emerged on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia had lifted its ban on beIN, the Premier League insisted that the resolution of the piracy issue was not a deciding factor in allowing its takeover.
Instead, the league said in a statement on Thursday that it could let the deal happen because it had received a “legally binding assurance” that the Saudi state would not be under the control of one of its member clubs.
The League’s statement suggested that it is now explicitly satisfied that the PIF, headed by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is entirely separate from the Kingdom of Saudi, where Salman is Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and the country at large. considered as. real ruler.
Yasser Al-Rumayun, the governor of the PIF, will serve as non-executive chairman of Newcastle, with Amanda Stavley, a British businessman and Jamie Reuben, a billionaire property investor also sitting on the newly formed board of the club.
All directors of Premier League clubs are subject to background checks, designed to ensure that they are often appropriate custodians of beloved civic institutions.
Several human rights organizations have expressed their objections to the agreement with Amnesty International. Premier League is calling To change the rules of trial of their owners and directors to ensure that those accused of human rights violations cannot take charge of football teams.
Sacha Deshmukh, the organization’s chief executive in Britain, said: “Ever since the deal was first talked about, we’ve said it was an attempt by the Saudi authorities to sport its horrific human rights record with the glamor of top-flight football.” represents a clear effort.”
“Under Mohammed bin Salman, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia remains grim – government critics, women’s rights campaigners, Shia activists and human defenders are still being harassed and imprisoned, often explicitly from after unfair trials.”
At Newcastle, however, fans tired of Ashley’s ownership and the team’s mid-performance during his tenure celebrated the sale outside the club’s stadium. Supporters of the club took months on social media to champion the sale, and some even took legal action against the Premier League for pursuing the takeover.