UPDATE 22 JUNE
WTO ruling puts sale of the club to a Saudi backed investment vehicle in doubt.
Strong local support for the Saudi investment
In a previous post we discussed the possible purchase of Newcastle United Football club by a consortium using Saudi funds. The consortium wishing to purchase the Newcastle Football club using Saudi money from their sovereign wealth fund is receiving strong local support. The local newspaper the Newcastle Chronicle has run several pieces discussing the various moves and bidding in the saga. A poll shows overwhelming support for the purchase:
The Newcastle United Supporters Trust has thrown its weight behind the potential takeover of the club after publishing a survey of members which showed overwhelming support for the buy out.
A Trust survey has found 96.7% of their members are in favour of the proposed takeover by Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners, along with the Reuben Brothers and the Saudi Arabian PiF. Mark Douglas, Chronicle, 25 April 2020
It is the comments pieces which are most revealing however. Supporters are passionate about their club and want it to do well, understandably so. They do not take kindly to doubts expressed by Amnesty or others about the wisdom of the take over. One writer sums up the situation well;
It would be hugely hypocritical and financially damaging if the government (which deals in billions of pound worth of arms with the Saudi’s) were to step in and put a stop to this deal going through. Why should NUFC be forced to act as a deterrent to the Saudi human rights. Organisations such as amnesty international (sic) and the UN have been unable to enforce any legal obligation on the Saudi’s so why should a football club be expected to do so. Both Amnesty and the UN should be able to enforce a political solution, and not try to use NUFC as leverage. We won’t be the first Premiership club to be owned by Saudi’s or another middle eastern domain, non (sic) of whom have good Human Rights reputations. I cannot believe for one minute that the government would have any legal right to block this deal and the FA have allowed other clubs to be purchased by Saudi’s previously so they have already set a precedence. NEWCASTLE500
He or she has a point. Saudi is the largest purchaser of arms from the UK. Royalty and a succession of ministers and prime ministers have paid court to the Saudis so why should NUFC forego a huge injection of cash when the government is obviously keen to do so? On 26 April 2020 it was revealed that the UK government has increased arms sales to regimes with a poor human rights record. Two wrongs do not make a right however. The British government is so ensnared in arms sales to Saudi that to stop would cause enormous damage to our arms industry and to our balance of payments. Small wonder the minister, Oliver Dowden, wants to keep well away from the problem. They Work for You reveals he generally votes against human rights and has voted for the abolition of the Human Rights Act.
If the Chronicle’s survey results reflect what people in Newcastle think, it is truly depressing. Is the only consideration the success or otherwise of their football club? The coverage also sought the opinions of past players who were also said to be enthusiastic.
Reading the Newcastle Chronicle pieces one would gain only small hints of the human rights situation in Saudi or what they are doing in Yemen. The pieces discuss the ins and outs of the deal largely to the exclusion of all else. If supporters read more of the nature of the money they are so keen to get their hands on, would they react differently?
Football has become enmeshed in money. Without huge budgets, no team can hope to win titles or afford to buy the best players. Has the desire for success and prestige corrupted the game? As Kate Allen, director of Amnesty put it:
The Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the Premier League to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the global footballing community.
A classic example of sports wash.