Newcastle United has given its brand and image to a ruthless regime led by a brutal dictator, the organization established by slain columnist Jamal Khashoggi said on Thursday night, following the football club’s takeover by a Saudi-led consortium. While there was joy in Newcastle after the Premier League confirmed the £300 million deal had been completed, with fans hoping that the new owners would spark a revival in the club’s fortunes, multiple human rights organizations denounced the acquisition, saying it would allow Saudi Arabia to “sportswash” its crimes on the international stage.
Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn), the organization formed by Khashoggi before he was assassinated – and his corpse chopped up with a bone saw – after being lured to the Saudi consulate in Turkey in 2018, led the criticism. Since then, US intelligence services have determined that the assassination was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“Newcastle has sold its name and reputation to a brutal government led by a brutal dictator. They might as well put Bin Salman’s image on the club’s logo. It is now clearer than ever that English football will sell itself to anyone, regardless of how heinous their crimes, provided they pay enough money. People, I believe, are underestimating the corrupting impact that this agreement will have. It normalizes a tyrant who actually butchers journalists,” Dawn’s executive director, Sarah Leah Whitson, explained.
The confirmation of the takeover, which was originally rumored in the spring of 2020, implies that British billionaire Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct, has relinquished ownership of the club after 14 years, during which he swiftly grew unpopular with supporters. The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) now owns 80% of Newcastle, with the remaining 20% split between RB Sports & Media, which is part of the Reuben Brothers empire owned by property developers Simon and David Reuben, and PCP Capital Partners, which is led by British financier Amanda Staveley and her husband, Mehrdad Ghodoussi.
The Premier League said it approved the acquisition after receiving assurances from the PIF – the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund managed by Bin Salman – that the Saudi state would not be involved in day-to-day operations at Newcastle. However, Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, stated that the Premier League was wrong. “It is incorrect that the crown prince is now claiming that he is not involved in this proposed deal,” she added. “We all know he’s doing it to clean up his image.” That statement was echoed by Nabhan al-Hanshi, acting director of ALQST, a Saudi human rights organization headquartered in the United Kingdom, who described the PIF and the Saudi state as “inseparable.”