Police ask Crystal Palace to explain how banner opposing Newcastle takeover was brought into ground

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Police ask Crystal Palace how banner opposing Newcastle takeover was brought into Selhurst Park - Getty Images
Police ask Crystal Palace how banner opposing Newcastle takeover was brought into Selhurst Park - Getty Images

The Metropolitan Police are under fire for investigating whether an offence was committed by football fans who unfurled a banner opposing the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United at a match.

Crystal Palace supporters raised a banner opposing the takeover at their 1-1 draw on Saturday. It showed a man dressed in robes and a headdress, resembling Saudi leader Mohammad bin Salman, holding a sword with blood on it and listed alleged offences by the Saudi regime.

The banner also showed Premier League chief executive Richard Masters with a pool of blood and bag of money at his feet.

After Newcastle’s takeover, the Premier League said it had “received legally-binding assurances that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.”

The Holmesdale Fanatics, the Palace fan group behind the protest, released a statement shortly after the banner was unveiled, saying: “We are lucky to live in a country where we can display a banner such as this without repercussion”.

The Metropolitan Police confirmed it had received a report of an offensive banner displayed by fans and that officers were still assessing the incident to determine whether a criminal offence had been committed.

On Saturday, Croydon Metropolitan Police wrote on Twitter: “Any allegations of racist abuse will be taken very seriously.”
But campaigners claimed it 'undermines' efforts to tackle racism.

Sunder Katwala, director of racial equality think tank British Future, criticised the police's involvement and said any investigation into the banner could undermine efforts to tackle legitimate examples of racism in football.

He said: "The police should be able to establish that there's nothing to investigate. It's a cartoon of an identifiable individual.

"It's a robust condemnation of the Saudi regime and the murder of a journalist and a criticism of the Saudi state. That's political speech.

"I don't think a criticism of the ruler of Saudi Arabia can be said to be racist abuse.

"It's important to look for racism and hate speech in football, but it undermines efforts to tackle it if the police start calling things racist abuse that are part of free speech and political comment."

Palace have privately maintained that they had no idea that the banner - which was several metres wide and held up by two poles - was going to be brought into the ground.

They have been contacted by police for information about the circumstances of the incident and are co-operating.

Newcastle fans attending Saturday's match at Palace’s Selhurst Park stadium were seen sporting Saudi flags and dressed in traditional Saudi clothing.

Last Wednesday, Newcastle issued a statement “kindly asking” fans not to wear such attire after condemnation of the practise by anti-racism group, Kick It Out.

But the club reversed that stance on Saturday, saying that “those who wish to support the club by wearing appropriate culturally-inspired clothing should feel free to do so as they see fit. We are inclusive to all.”

Angus Kinnear, the chief executive of Leeds United, who have pushed for Financial Fair Play rules being met around takeovers, questioned the Saudi buy-out in programme notes for his club’s 1-1 draw against Wolves.

He wrote: “The media and public have been left debating why the Premier League owners directors test is harder to fail than GCSE PE, but now our real focus should be on how the new owners of Newcastle embrace the values of equality, diversity and inclusion that are core to every club’s membership of the greatest league in the world.”

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said: "On Saturday 23 October police received a report of an offensive banner displayed by Crystal Palace fans.

"Officers are assessing the information and carrying out enquiries."

The Premier League is yet to comment on the banner, having been approached to do so.

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