LONDON – Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund closed a takeover of Premier League club Newcastle on Thursday, which gives hope to fans dreaming of a first title in nearly a century but concerns human rights activists that the kingdom is in the world’s richest football league Has gained a foothold.
Fans flocked to the club’s St. James’ Park Stadium, some chanting “We are Saudis, we do what we want” and others sang “We got our club back” amid the promise of a long-awaited investment.
The £ 300 million acquisition (£ 409 million in the UK.
It led to a protracted legal battle that only ended this week when the Premier League’s Public Investment Fund pledged that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and in turn the state, would have no say on the team.
PIF has bought 80 percent of the club, which is in relegation zone after seven games, while wealthy British Reuben brothers and financier Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners own the rest.
“The big change was the control problem,” Staveley told The Associated Press. “We had to prove that there was a sufficient separation between the PIF and the Saudi state, and that was determined.”
The Crown Prince will not have a seat on Newcastle’s board of directors, but will remain chairman of the PIF.
The Premier League’s approval of the new owners and directors means that 15 of their clubs are either owned by foreign investors or partially owned by foreign investors.
“All parties have agreed that the deal is necessary to end fans’ long-standing uncertainty about the club’s property,” the league said in a statement. “The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.”
The takeover puts an end to the 14-year-old tenure of British retail tycoon Mike Ashley, widely regarded as a figure of contempt in the one-club town.
Its ownership is characterized by chronic underinvestment in the squad, its use of Newcastle as a vehicle to advance its business interests, and a general lack of ambition, although the club regularly attracts more than 50,000 spectators.
Newcastle have not won a major trophy since the 1955 FA Cup and their last league title was in 1927.
“Newcastle is like a magical, very beautiful rough diamond,” said Staveley in a telephone interview. “But it takes some care and polishing. But it’s a star. “
The club will seek a transformation that Manchester City enjoyed in 2008 following its takeover by another Middle East entity – Abu Dhabi – also brokered by Staveley.
A major obstacle to the Newcastle takeover was the piracy of beIN-owned sports broadcasts – including Premier League games – by a body facilitated by the Saudi state, according to the World Trade Organization. The Saudis declared beIN illegal in 2017 when they joined the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in launching a wider economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar for Doha supporting extremism. The tiny, super-rich nation of Qatar denied the charges and the boycott ended that year.
Saudi Arabia is expected to lift its ban on beIN soon, but Staveley said that didn’t end the dead end on the takeover.
There was also an ongoing ethical dimension.
Amnesty International wrote to the League last year that the takeover could be used by Saudi Arabia to cover up “deeply immoral” violations of international law, citing human rights violations and the role of the Crown Prince.
Amnesty expressed concern to Masters about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 after US intelligence agencies said the murder was carried out on the orders of the Crown Prince. The kingdom denied that.
“We can understand that this is seen as a great day by many Newcastle United fans,” said Sacha Deshmukh, CEO of Amnesty International UK, on Thursday. “But it’s also a very worrying day for anyone who cares about the ownership of English football clubs and whether these great clubs are being used to launder human rights abuses through sport.
“In our opinion, this deal was always more about sportswashing than football, with Saudi Arabia’s aggressive penetration into sport as a vehicle for image management and PR that was visible to everyone.”