Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has challenged the Premier League to allow the club’s arbitration claim against it to be heard in public – and urged the Government to intervene if it refuses.
The sportswear magnate launched a two-pronged legal assault on the governing body after it failed to reach a decision on a proposed largely Saudi-backed takeover bid last year after 17 weeks of deliberations under its owners’ and directors’ test, and is now citing the European Super League debacle to support his demand for greater transparency.
One line of attack is the arbitration case, which is due to be held later this month, and centres around the way in which the Premier League applied its rules in considering the Amanda Staveley-led consortium’s bid, and the alleged influence of its commercial partners on that process.
A club statement released on Thursday said: “The EPL Rules provide the entire arbitration process is confidential. However, both parties can agree for it to be in public. The club believes it should be.
“The issues at stake, including the lawfulness of the EPL’s decision making process and the widely publicised alleged influence of the EPL’s commercial partners on the EPL’s decisions, are of far wider interest to other football clubs, fans and the public in general.
“The recent attempted breakaway by some EPL clubs – and the reaction of the government and public to it – has again highlighted the need for transparency and fairness in football governance.
“Gone are the days when important decisions that affect clubs and their fans should be made secretly, behind closed doors and away from the public eye.
“The club has nothing to hide with respect to the arbitration and invites the EPL to agree that it should no longer be held behind closed doors. If the EPL has acted lawfully and properly, it should have no reason to be afraid of the public spotlight.”
The consortium, which is 80 per cent-funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund with the Reuben Brothers and Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners each taking a 10 per cent stake, launched its £300million-plus attempt to buy the Magpies in April last year, but withdrew its offer on July 30 with a decision still pending.
Throughout the intervening period, both Ashley and the prospective buyers were confident there were “no red flags” and insisted they had addressed concerns over the Saudi state’s links to the bid and TV piracy.
The Frasers Group boss was furious, therefore, when the deal collapsed and has also lodged a claim with the Competition Appeal Tribunal.
However, it is the arbitration claim which is currently the club’s main focus, and the latest development represents a significant escalation.
The statement continued: “To date, the EPL has strongly resisted any public scrutiny of its decision-making process. It tried, and failed, to prevent the High Court’s judgment about elements of the arbitration being published last February.
“It is currently attempting to prevent the competition courts considering a claim by the club’s sellers from taking place in public, arguing that too should be held in confidential arbitration.
“So the club has invited the EPL to agree – as the claim raises such important issues of sports governance, transparency and openness – that it should be held in public.
“The club is prepared for every stage of the process to be in public: the public should be able to see the parties’ evidence and arguments as well as the full decision of the tribunal when it is made.
“The Government quite rightly threatened to intervene in reaction to the proposed breakaway from the EPL earlier this year, and the reaction of football fans and the wider public was instrumental in stopping the emergence of the European Super League (ESL).
“If the EPL continues to insist that the club’s claim must be determined behind closed doors, the club asks that MPs, the government, the media and the general public call on the EPL to finally accept public scrutiny of its decision-making process.”
The Premier League was not commenting on the matter on Thursday evening.