No arguing with being sent off here!
Premier League club Newcastle United have been sold to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund after a protracted takeover and legal fight involving concerns about piracy and rights abuses in the kingdom.
The Stg 300 million ($A559 million) takeover by the Saudi Public Investment Fund initially collapsed last year over concerns about how much control the kingdom’s leadership would have in the running of Newcastle.
PIF has had to offer assurances to the Premier League that its chairman, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and in turn the state will not have any control of the running of the club.
The decision was celebrated wildly by former players and fans of the club, who have put aside any concerns they might have around its human rights record.
The takeover ends the 14-year ownership by British retail tycoon Mike Ashley, who has been widely viewed as a figure of scorn in the one-club city, whose St James’ Park stadium is affectionately dubbed “the cathedral on the hill.”
Many columnists were not as accommodating as fans celebrating the new spending power.
“The most obvious point is that [former owner] Mike Ashley’s departure is a hugely welcome turn,” wrote Barney Ronay in the Guardian.
“Ashley’s ownership of Newcastle brought stasis, inflammatory managerial appointments, two relegations and worst of all a kind of viciousness, a showboating arrogance in his dealings with the club’s support. The grossest offence of the Ashley era was its joylessness, the capacity to make people who love football and love their club feel estranged, disdained and commodified. He will not be missed.
“And yet, while we’re telling it like it is, there is also something wretched, hypocritical and deeply depressing in English football’s willingness to welcome into its elite members’ club the blood-soaked, repressive, deeply discriminatory Saudi state.
“In this light the comparison with Ashley, the assumption that Newcastle has finally found its prince, seems to involve a degree of cognitive dissonance. Infuriating tracksuit vendor v blood-stained dictatorship. Zero-hours sport-shop contracts v beheading 37 people in a single day. Hiring Dennis Wise v bombing Yemen. Is it really obvious that one of these – the beheading one – is so much more desirable than the other?
“There will of course be a hostile response to such observations, if only because football, and indeed all human experience, has become so aggressively tribal. There is a genuine conviction out there that uneasiness over a Saudi presence in English football is based in hostility towards Newcastle United. In reality the opposite is true: it is an expression of respect for the club as something of value.
“Welcome to English football 2021, a place where nobody is really clean.”
Oliver Brown, writing in the UK Telegraph, was similarly scathing.
“Anybody horrified by the Saudis’ capture of Newcastle United risks running headlong into hostility from the club’s long-suffering fans,” Brown wrote.
“All demand to know why the same moral indignation is not reserved for Manchester City acting as a shop front for the United Arab Emirates, or for Paris Saint-Germain’s role as a convenient conduit for Qatari soft power.
“The key difference, surely, is that while both those regimes have fallen short on multiple Amnesty International metrics, neither sanctioned the murder and dismemberment of a journalist just three years ago this week.
“The case of Jamal Khashoggi – the Washington Post columnist killed, according to US intelligence agencies, on the direct orders of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman – is crucial to understanding why Newcastle’s takeover represents such a grotesque moment for football.”
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— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) October 7, 2021
PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan said: “We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football,”
The PIF will be the majority partner alongside wealthy British-based Reuben brothers and financier Amanda Staveley.
The Premier League said “the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect” following the completion of its owners’ and directors’ test.
“The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club,” it added.
Ashley’s ownership has been marked by chronic underinvestment in the playing squad, his use of Newcastle as a vehicle to promote his business interests, and of a general lack of ambition despite the club attracting regular home crowds of more than 50,000.
Newcastle haven’t won a major trophy since the 1955 FA Cup and their last league title was in 1927 but the north-east English club have long been seen as a slumbering giant.
The club will now be seeking a transformation in the same manner enjoyed by Manchester City in 2008 after their takeover by another Middle Eastern entity – Abu Dhabi.
Staveley, who brokered the City takeover, is also fronting the Saudi takeover of Newcastle.
It is four years since Staveley attempted to buy Newcastle, but the most recent bid collapsed last year amid legal battles.
A key impediment to the takeover was the piracy in Saudi Arabia of sports broadcasts by Qatari-owned beIN – including of Premier League games.
Saudi Arabia declared beIN illegal in 2017 as the nation launched a wider economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar alongside the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain over accusations Doha supports extremism. The tiny, super-rich nation of Qatar denied the charge.
It is understood the Saudi government has now informed beIN – which had initially asked the Premier League to block the Newcastle sale – that its channels will be allowed to broadcast in the country for the first time since the start of the Gulf diplomatic dispute.
Amnesty International wrote to league chief executive Richard Masters to say the takeover could be exploited by Saudi Arabia to cover up “deeply immoral” breaches of international law, citing human rights violations and the role of the crown prince.