Newcastle takeover: MPs urge UK government to take urgent action against sportswashing


A group of 16 cross-party MPs and peers have written to the government raising concern over the threat of sportswashing in the UK amid the Saudi Arabia-funded takeover of Newcastle United.

The politicians – including former Labour leader Neil Kinnock and Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley – have said that the £300m takeover, which would see the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia acquire an 80 per cent stake in the club, is a vehicle to distract from the country’s human rights record.

The letter, seen by The Independent, cites allegations surrounding the regime’s involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the jailing of human rights activists, the use of online espionage and Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemeni Civil War.

The group, spearheaded by the Fifa Ethics and Regulations Watch, urge the government to “take an active lead” in preventing sportswashing in the UK and develop a more stringent fit-and-proper-person test to stop the alignment of companies and regimes with poor human rights records with the Premier League.

Last month, Oliver Dowden, secretary for the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport, said that the government would not intervene in the Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle due to it being “entirely a matter for the two parties concerned”, and would leave the Premier League to undertake its own due diligence.

He added that the government “supports Saudi Arabia’s continued diversification efforts under its Vision 2030 strategy”.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has revealed that he is “fully considering” all calls to block the takeover, and assured Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Mr Khashoggi, that he “remains extremely sympathetic to [her] position.”

Amnesty UK director Kate Allen claimed that the Premier League “risked becoming a patsy” if it sanctioned the takeover, while human rights group Fair/Square Projects stated that “there is a compelling body of evidence that any consortium linked to the Saudi Arabian government should be disqualified from ownership of any Premier League club” in a letter to Masters.

In addition to concerns around Saudi Arabia’s human rights, the issue of broadcast piracy has also been raised in regards to the takeover.

Fifa has previously attempted to take legal action against beoutQ in Saudi Arabia over piracy (Getty)

Broadcaster beoutQ has been illegally showing matches – mainly in Saudi Arabia – despite Qatar-based beIN Sports owning the rights in the region. Saudi Arabia claimed that beoutQ originated in Cuba and Colombia, but it was later revealed that the pirate streaming service was being broadcast by Arabsat, which is majority-owned by the Saudi state – beoutQ has since been removed from Arabsat.

Fifa, Uefa, the Premier League and La Liga have all previously attempted to take legal action against beoutQ in Saudi Arabia for the illegal stream of matches.

Last month, a Newcastle United Supporters Trust poll of 3,410 fans found that 96.7 per cent were in favour of the new consortium replacing current owner Mike Ashley, who has been in charge of Newcastle for 13 years.


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