Premier League owners’ test to include disqualification for ‘human rights abuses’

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Premier League clubs have agreed to bring in tougher rules to its owners’ and directors’ test - including disqualification for individuals found guilty of “human rights abuses”.

The clubs unanimously approved a number of changes to the assessment process around new ownership, which will come in with immediate effect.

Under its changes, the Premier League added a number of new “disqualifying events” for prospective owners and directors - including “human rights abuses, based on Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020”.

It will effectively allow the Premier League to take action against individuals on the UK government’s sanctions list.

In response, Amnesty International said the Premier League’s changes had set a “very low bar” and warned that the rules could make “little difference”.

Amnesty International repeatedly called on the Premier League to consider Saudi Arabia’s human rights record when the country’s Public Investment Fund took a controlling stake in Newcastle United in 2021.

The human rights group have also continued to criticise Qatar’s human rights record while Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani has been among the leading bidders to buy Manchester United.

“It’s a step in the right direction that human rights and hate crimes are now being considered, but it’ll make little difference unless powerful individuals linked to serious human rights violations overseas are definitively barred from taking control of Premier League clubs and using them for state sportswashing,” said Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK’s economic affairs director

“Would, for instance, a future bid involving Saudi or Qatari sovereign wealth funds be blocked by this rule change? - it’s far from clear that they would. Merely checking whether people are on an existing UK sanctions list is a very low bar, and the sanctions list reflects the Government’s foreign policy priorities rather than any objective assessment of human rights issues.

“Nearly three years ago we proposed a detailed new human rights-compliant test that would prohibit football ownership where individuals were complicit in acts of torture, slavery, human trafficking and war crimes. The acid test of whether this new rule is fit for purpose is whether it would involve serious efforts to assess the involvement of prospective buyers in human rights abuses.

“The Premier League needs to adopt an active screening process and not just outsource its due diligence to others. Top-flight English football still risks becoming the sportswashing toy of authoritarian figures around the world unless the Premier League gets this right.”

Among other changes, the Premier League also now has the power to block people from becoming directors where they are under investigation for conduct that would result in a "disqualifying event" if proven. Meanwhile, the list of criminal offences resulting in disqualification has been extended to offences involving “violence, corruption, fraud, tax evasion and hate crimes”.

There is no mention of state ownership in the updated rules, however, but the Premier League said “annual due diligence” will be undertaken on current owners and directors to “ensure ongoing compliance” with the rules.

It follows the publication of the government’s white paper last month, with its recommendations including the introduction of an independent regulator. Amnesty International accused the government’s white paper of a “glaring omission” after it failed to mention human rights issues.