Published on :
A Saudi fund officially seized English football club Newcastle after lengthy negotiations and despite opposition from human rights groups.
The English Premier League on Thursday, October 7, approved the buyout of the Newcastle club by a Saudi fund, ending a soap opera that had lasted for more than a year.
“We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football,” Saudi fund boss Yasir Al-Rumayyan said in a statement.
🤝 An investment group led by the Public Investment Fund, and also comprising PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media, has completed the acquisition of 100% of Newcastle United Limited and Newcastle United Football Club Limited from St. James Holdings Limited.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) October 7, 2021
The club, owned for 14 years by British businessman Mike Ashley, is now owned by a consortium comprising Saudi investment fund PCP Capital Partners and brothers David and Simon Reuben, a takeover that has received the green light from the Premier League.
The body which oversees the English championship had however been arrested earlier Thursday by Amnesty International, the NGO being alarmed at a takeover by a sovereign fund of Saudi Arabia, and describing the human rights situation as “disastrous “in the country ruled de facto by Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman.
The Saudis had already tried to acquire the “Magpies” in the summer of 2020, without success, handicapped by the personality of Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman, accused of multiple human rights violations. The second attempt is finally the right one, the club being “sold to the consortium with immediate effect” according to a statement from the Premier League, specifying that the organization has “received legally binding guarantees that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control the Newcastle United club “.
Diplomacy through sport
The sale, which amounts to around 300 million pounds (333 million euros) according to British media, represents a “long-term investment” according to the CEO of PCP Capital Partners, Amanda Staveley, who adds aiming for “major trophies”.
Returning to the Premier League in 2017 after a year in the second division, this popular club from the north-east of England is in 19th place after 7 matches, while the club’s last heyday dates back to the 1990s, when the training led by coach Kevin Keegan and striker Alan Shearer struggled unsuccessfully for the league title.
Newcastle entered the circle of clubs dependent on the immense fortunes of the Gulf countries, after Manchester City came under the Emirati flag in 2008 and the takeover of Paris Saint-Germain by the Qatari investment fund QSI in 2011.
Saudi power thus marks a little more its presence in the world of sport, while the country has been hosting major car races such as the Dakar rally since 2020, or soon a round of the Formula 1 world championship, a way of responding to the ambitious policy of its regional rivals like Qatar, which has been very present for a decade with the organization of the 2022 World Cup as a culmination.
The fears of human rights activists
The tension between Saudi Arabia and Qatar had already appeared on the sports field, when the Qatari channel beIN Sports accused Saudi Arabia of being behind BeoutQ, a system of pirating sports images. The recent resolution of this incident had revived rumors of redemption, until formalization Thursday.
While former club players have expressed their joy and hundreds of supporters have gathered around the legendary St. James’ Park to celebrate this takeover, the eruption of such power in English football also worries activists rights, explicitly targeting “MBS”.
Yesssssssss. We can dare to hope again 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 🙋🏼♂️⚫️⚪️⚫️⚪️⚫️⚪️ #NUFC
— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) October 7, 2021
Before the officialization of the takeover, Amnesty International had called on the Premier League to tighten the criteria to be able to acquire a football club in England. “Instead of allowing people involved in serious human rights violations to enter English football simply because their pockets are full,” the NGO had “urged the Premier League to change its criteria (for selection ) of the owners and directors “of its clubs.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been named by Turkish and American officials as the sponsor of the October 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. “MBS” was later said to take responsibility as leader for the murder, however denying any knowledge of it before it was committed.