By Charlie Batten
It seems that very soon Newcastle United will complete a very controversial £300 million takeover headed by Amanda Staveley and heavily backed by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, so why is it so controversial?
To start, we have to look at the actual deal and who’s involved. On the surface it’s incredibly similar to the 2008 Man City takeover where a rich Middle Eastern investor poured huge amounts of money into the club. Newcastle’s potential new owners come from a consortium led by Amanda Staveley who is a businesswoman who for many years has had connections to Middle Eastern investors. Another member of this consortium are the Reuben Brothers who are claimed to be the second richest family in Britain with a net worth of almost £17 billion. But the biggest backer of this takeover is the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) which is led by the crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman. It is the PIF’s backing that could make Newcastle the richest club in the world as they have an estimated wealth of $400 billion.
The problem that many people are having with the potential deal is the cloud of human rights violations and political controversy that hangs over Prince Salman. For many years Saudi Arabia has been known for its lack of human rights, specifically the way it treats women and those who oppose the state. Similarly, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi last year, which was thought to be orchestrated by Mohammed Bin Salman, has not aided his image. However, for many years women were denied basic rights such as being allowed to drive a car and conduct daily activities without a man being with them or having access to facilities like education and healthcare without consent from a guardian. This has led to many arrests of protesters and activists. In recent years the Price has brought change. Women in Saudi Arabia now hold more rights than in the past, but many charities and activist groups still claim not nearly enough change has been brought in.
Although it’s improved for women, people who the government view as a threat to the state are still treated with an absolute disregard for human rights. Journalists, academics and activists are often imprisoned, missing or dead, with their deaths heavily linked to the state.
It’s not only the treatment of its people that should raise alarms but also how it acts with other countries. Saudi Arabia has played a major role in the war in Yemen with the supplying of military aid to the government fighting the Houthi rebels which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians including an estimated 50,000 children due to starvation. They also expelled the Canadian ambassador and cut all trade deals after Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs condemned the country for the imprisonment of a human rights activist and a blogger.
Amnesty International have pleaded to the government to prevent the Newcastle takeover as a stand for human rights, and also because they believe the only reason Saudi Arabia are investing in the club is as a means to improve their public image and to distract from their controversies. However, what may actually prevent the deal is a Middle Eastern television network’s illegal broadcast of Premier League matches.
BeoutQ is a television network which broadcasts Premier League matches illegally throughout Arab countries and it has strong links to Saudi Arabia. This has caused the government to take a look at the network. The fact they don’t pay for the rights of the Premier League has caused the UK government to lose out on money they could gain. This means that the government may step in not to protest Saudi Arabia’s poor treatment of its citizens but instead to protest the fact they weren’t paid for screening football matches on TV.
Throughout the takeover saga, one thing that’s been lacking is the voice of Newcastle fans and their view of the new owners and to be honest if you ask one what they think of their new owner they’d tell you “he’s bad, but at least he’s not Mike Ashley”.
One thing that many non-football fans don’t understand about why Newcastle fans want the new owner is that they love Newcastle United more than anything and hate Mike Ashley more than anything. The Sports Direct owner has also owned Newcastle since 2007 and many fans would blame him for the lack of success they’ve had since he bought the club.
From the 90’s to the mid noughties Newcastle were a fairly successful team in which the side very nearly won the league – only faltering due to a mid-season catastrophe in which Manchester United clawed back an incredible array of points – and had a core of players such as Alan Shearer and Michael Owen in their team. They are also known for having one of the most dedicated fan bases in the country with St. James’ Park being known for its hostile atmosphere. However, many point the finger and Ashely for the disappearance of this passion and disillusionment of the fans.
Many fans state Ashley caused a lack of drive in the club due to the lack of investment and the fact that he viewed the club as a business first and football club second. He also took the pride away from the club with the fact that he briefly renamed the stadium to the Sports Direct arena and had the club’s main sponsor as the pay-day lender Wonga. For years fans have wanted the owner out and it seems their prayers are finally being answered. Even though the new owners may not be ideal due to their actions in their own country, I think the best way to sum up Newcastle fans view is with Youtuber The True Geordie’s view, “all [the takeover] means is we’re about to have Mike Ashley ejected from Newcastle United.”