The English Premier League has given an investment group that includes the Saudi Public Investment Fund, “PCB Capital Partners” and “RB Sports and Media”, the green light to acquire Newcastle United, despite warnings from Amnesty International that the deal represents a “polishing” operation. Athlete” for the human rights record in the Gulf Kingdom.
The deal cost 300 million pounds ($408 million) to acquire Newcastle from owner Mike Ashley, and the Saudi stake in it would be 80%, according to British media estimates.
Christian Ulrichsen, an expert on Gulf states politics at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, told the magazine:Foreign Policy“They are using the soft power of football, which has global appeal, to try to change the perception of people in Saudi Arabia.”
He added, “People are talking about Saudi Arabia now about something other than the cases of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the war in Yemen and the human rights file.”
“Since the beginning of the talk about this deal, we have said that it represents a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to take advantage of sport, to beautify their appalling human rights record with the magic of first-class football,” said Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty International.
“Instead of allowing those involved in gross human rights abuses into English football simply because they have pockets full, we have called on the Premier League to change the vetting and selection rules for owners and managers to take into account human rights issues,” Deshmukh added.
“Polishing” the image of Saudi Arabia
“The deal shows the success of the public relations strategy for investing in sports projects to polish their image,” Nabhan Al-Hanashi, acting director of the ALQST Organization for Human Rights Support, told Reuters.
Mohammed Mandour, a sports journalist for the French website Sports Data, told AFP that “Saudi Arabia has entered the field of sports investment from the widest door. The English Premier League is gaining popularity and the largest audience in the world.”
He added that “there is a political and economic objective in the short and long term” to buy Newcastle. He continued, “Politically, improving its general appearance, especially because it is linked to human rights violations. The purchase process is linked to laundering their reputation, not their money. Their money is well known, but their reputation suffers in the West.”
And he added, “In the long run, the issue is economically profitable. Perhaps the spending at the beginning is greater than the revenues. But things are beginning to have an economic return from the money selling players and advertising income,” referring to the experiences of the English club Manchester City, owned by the Emirates, and Paris Saint-Germain, France, owned by Qatar.
The kingdom faced international condemnation after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in his country’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018, to the extent that the US intelligence issued a report last February, accusing bin Salman of agreeing to the killing, which the Saudis strongly rejected.
For its part, Khadija Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, on Friday criticized Saudi Arabia’s takeover of the English club. “I’m really sad,” Cengiz told Britain’s Sky News. “I think money is more important than anything in this life.”
“How can players, fans and the Newcastle manager accept this situation? Where are the values, where are human rights, responsibility and justice for all? It is unfortunate that I remind the West of these values,” Cengiz asked.
The kingdom, which has been known for decades to be highly conservative, is undergoing radical economic, social and religious reforms, but these changes have also been accompanied by a crackdown on critics, journalists and dissidents, especially human rights activists.
“This comes against the backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s strategy to use the country’s sports teams, athletes, and major sporting events to divert attention from its national human rights crises,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.
The original deal to buy Newcastle collapsed in July 2020 amid scrutiny by Premier League officials after it came under pressure to stop the deal due to concerns over the alleged piracy of television broadcasts in Saudi Arabia.
The dispute over piracy involves Qatar’s beIN Sports Group, which owns the television rights to Premier League matches across the Middle East and is banned from operating in Saudi Arabia.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia lifted the ban, removing a major obstacle to the Newcastle deal. However, concerns about the kingdom’s human rights record remain.
The organization’s campaign chief in Britain, Felix Jackins, told AFP that the deal “represents a very clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to whitewash their appalling human rights record by using the luster of the Premier League”.
The move also allows it to gain leverage with the British government, which has faced public pressure over arms sales to it, by actually investing in one of the poorest parts of England. It would also be a relief to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who personally pressed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to ensure the deal goes through, according to Foreign Policy.
“Saudi Arabia’s takeover of Newcastle United soccer team is an intriguing example of the democracy versus authoritarian struggle between regimes at work,” Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution wrote on Twitter.
Wright added: “Not only will sport whitewash his (Mohammed bin Salman) reputation, it will also show that he is playing a constructive role in revitalizing northern England, one of the neglected places in the kingdom. It is hard for UK politicians to criticize him for that. the time”.
new mental picture
For his part, sports analyst Mansour Al-Jabarti denied the accusations and said he did not believe so. He added that it came within the framework of a stereotypical preconceived view in the West of Arab investors, and any commercial deals for them are viewed on the basis of it.
Al-Jabarti confirmed in statements to Al-Hurra TV website that this deal is primarily a commercial deal, whose purpose is trade, profit and investment, noting that the investment fund has investments in multiple fields.
He said that such accusations and talk about such big deals are normal in Europe. The men of commerce and economics are aware of the commercial importance of this deal.
In the same context, the former model, Amanda Staveley, who has led the acquisition negotiations since 2017, rejected these accusations, and said that the goal of the deal, if it was primarily political, would have targeted Saudi Arabia to buy franchises in the United States, and not a club that sits in the relegation zone in the English Premier League. Excellent, according to her.
She pointed out that “our partner is not the Saudi state. Our partner is the Public Investment Fund”, one of the most important and most influential sovereign wealth funds in the world.
And the Premier League said it is convinced that ownership of the sovereign wealth fund does not mean that the Saudi government will interfere directly in the club’s business, according to Foreign Policy.
But for Ulrichsen, the idea that the Saudi fund operates separately from the government is not believed by many. He said, “Not only is there no separation between the state and the fund, but if you look at the contemporary Saudi state in 2021, the Public Investment Fund in my view is the most important part of it.”
An official at the General Sports Authority in Saudi Arabia told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity, that “the move will change the English’s perception of Saudi Arabia and will establish a new mental image of the kingdom for future generations.”
And the official close to the sports and entertainment decision-making department continued, “Newcastle will shorten a lot for the Saudis in the world … just originally raising the Saudi flag in announcing the deal was a success.”
A former high-ranking Saudi official told AFP, “Many clubs were presented to the Investment Authority. But the choice fell on Newcastle, because it is an important and big city in England, and the club has a legacy, a passionate crowd, and a large stadium that can be built upon.”
The English club Newcastle United entered history from its widest doors after it became the richest club in the world as soon as the Saudi Investment Fund announced its acquisition, Thursday.
Newcastle have not won a major title since 1969, and the former club owner was unpopular during his 13-year tenure, during which the club was relegated twice from the Premier League.
cheer the crowd
As for the attitude of Newcastle fans, a recent survey by the Fans’ League showed that 93.8 per cent of fans were in favor of possession.
As soon as the completion of the deal was announced, dozens of club fans gathered in front of their team’s stadium, to celebrate this deal, raising the Saudi flag and wearing the Saudi uniform.
According to Foreign Policy, Newcastle fans are less concerned with their owners’ geopolitical goals.
Ray Sproul, 80, told the Guardian: “Next year’s World Cup will be in Qatar, which is one of the worst places in the world (for human rights), so why should Newcastle United care about human rights?”
Nate Scott, director of content for USA Today Sports Magazine, said:politco“The deal puts Newcastle fans in a huge bind. They can point out that owners of clubs like Manchester City, Chelsea or Paris Saint-Germain undoubtedly have bleach, and why they are not allowed to succeed because that is the state of the modern game.”
According to the newspaper,The New York Times‘, Newcastle fans are ready to turn a blind eye to this moral dilemma, and say their new owner is no worse than Manchester City or Liverpool backed by a bank accused of laundering drug cartel profits.
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