Saudi Arabia's Newcastle takeover branded a 'bitter blow for human rights'

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Assassinated journalist's widow urges Premier League not to 'cave in' to Saudi Arabia's Newcastle takeover - AFP
Assassinated journalist's widow urges Premier League not to 'cave in' to Saudi Arabia's Newcastle takeover - AFP

Newcastle's Saudi takeover was branded an "extremely bitter blow for human rights" on Thursday night after the Premier League ignored 11th hour pleas to reject the deal.

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and Amnesty had desperately appealed to England's top tier to avoid "caving in". Cengiz told Telegraph Sport the league was effectively letting crown prince Mohammed bin Salman "wash his reputation, and sully the name of sports".

The English top tier's subsequent announcement that it was satisfied there would be no state interference left campaigners incandescent.

Amnesty International UK chief executive officer Sacha Deshmukh said: "We can understand that this will be seen as a great day by many Newcastle United fans. But it's also a very worrying day for anyone who cares about the ownership of English football clubs and whether these great clubs are being used to sportswash human rights abuse.

"In our assessment, this deal was always more about sportswashing than it was about football, with Saudi Arabia's aggressive move into sport as a vehicle for image-management and PR plain for all to see. This will be an extremely bitter blow for human rights defenders and others suffering persecution in Saudi Arabia who will be well aware that this takeover is partly about diverting attention from their plight."

The Government has distanced itself from the deal but Nigel Huddleston, the sports minister, hinted on Thursday that the league's owners' and directors' rules could potentially be tweaked under the ongoing fan-led review of the game.

Cengiz and her legal team, meanwhile, are continuing to pursue a lawsuit against Crown Prince Bin Salman, with the CIA believing that the de factor ruler "approved" the kidnap, drugging, torture, and assassination of Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018.

Ahead of the Premier League green light for Newcastle, Cengiz added: "I ask what has now suddenly changed? There is still no justice for Jamal’s murder. I urge the Premier League not to cave in now — this is the moment to show courage and principle. It will show the killers they cannot wash away their crimes. The League needs to lead by example for football fans and all people to say no to murder."

Cengiz’s lawyer Rodney Dixon QC added that the UK's reputation on human rights is now at stake. UK-based campaign group Fair Game later declared the takeover by Saudi's Public Investment Fund, financiers PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben Brothers as "sportswashing pure and simple".

The organisation, which has called for the reform of football in England via an independent regulator, has claimed the Premier League club's new owners "are not fit and proper" and that the Magpies' "proud" history has been "hijacked".

Huddleston, however, said it is for the football authorities to legislate on the qualifications of prospective new owners based on the systems they already have in place.

The minister added: "One of the aspects of the fan-led review into football governance is all of these elements. I don't want to prejudge what Tracey (Crouch) may recommend, we'll be getting the full details going forward."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting