In Brief

Newcastle takeover: Amnesty warning over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record

Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports asks Premier League clubs to block deal because of piracy concerns

The proposed takeover of Newcastle United by a consortium of buyers including Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has been criticised by Amnesty International and one of the Premier League’s broadcast partners, beIN Sports.

Sky Sports reports that human rights organisation Amnesty has written to the Premier League to express its disquiet over the £300m purchase of the Magpies, and has asked chief executive Richard Masters to scrutinise Saudi Arabia’s human rights record as part of the Premier League’s owners and directors test.

In the letter to Masters, Amnesty UK director Kate Allen said football must act with probity and clarity, particularly given the controversy in recent weeks surrounding the furloughing of non-playing staff by some clubs. 

Allen wrote: “The coronavirus crisis has already thrown a spotlight on football and its need to treat players and staff fairly, and now there’s a danger that the pandemic could obscure the need for a cool, measured and genuinely ethical decision over this Newcastle deal. 

“All businesses need to safeguard against any possible links to human rights violations, and English football is no different.”

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Confident

News of the proposed takeover emerged earlier this month and it is understood that the relevant paperwork is now with the league’s governing body, which is conducting checks on PCP Capital Partners, the Saudi-backed consortium led by businesswoman Amanda Staveley. 

According to Sky Sports, the bidders are “confident of having their takeover ratified” by the Premier League.

“We’re absolutely not saying who should end up running Newcastle United, but unless the Premier League pauses and looks seriously at the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia it risks becoming a patsy - a willing dupe of those trying to sportswash their abysmal human rights records,” said Amnesty. 

“At the very least, the Premier League should make a clear statement over how its owners and directors test has been applied in this case, and what assessment has been made of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record under Mohammad bin Salman’s leadership. 

“How can this be positive for the reputation and image of the Premier League?”

beIN outraged

BBC reports that Qatar-based beIN Sports is also upset at the likely takeover and the broadcaster’s CEO, Yousef al-Obaidly, has written to the chairpersons of all top-flight clubs expressing his concern at the deal. 

In the letter Al-Obaidly accuses the Saudi Arabian government of the “facilitation of the near three-year theft of the Premier League’s commercial rights - and in turn your club’s commercial revenues - through its backing of the huge-scale beoutQ pirate service”. He added: “It is no exaggeration to say that the future economic model of football is at stake.”

Al-Obaidly has also written to Premier League chief Masters reminding him that top-flight matches have been illegally shown in Saudi Arabia for a while, despite the fact beIN own the broadcast rights for the region. 

The BBC says that Saudi broadcaster Arabsat has always denied it is involved in the illegal broadcasts and has accused beIN of being behind “defamation attempts and misleading campaigns”.

The rift is a reflection of the wider diplomatic tension between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the Middle East.

Today’s back pages

Spurs duo say sorry and Saudis line up Pochettino for Newcastle

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