Insight

Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle United pitches two camps against each other

The partner of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi tells ITV News Reporter Sangita Lal the Premier League should show some principle


The controversial Saudi-backed takeover of Premier League Newcastle United pitches two distinct camps against each other.

Those, like Amnesty International, who believe a State with an appalling human rights record has pulled off a significant ‘sports-washing’ coup and the others, largely fans of the club, who are celebrating the demise of current owner Mike Ashley and looking forward to the investment that’s been promised.

Two significant obstacles have been overcome to finally get this deal over the line.

Firstly, the end of a piracy row over Premier League TV rights owned by beIN SPORT who were blocked from broadcasting in Saudi, and the League has also received assurances that the new majority owners will operate independently of the Saudi State.

Given that 80% of the cash is coming from Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, some will find that notion of independence hard to swallow.

In a statement on Thursday Amnesty UK’s Chief Executive said: “Instead of allowing those implicated in serious human rights violations to walk into English football simply because they have deep pockets, we’ve urged the Premier League to change their owners’ and directors’ test to address human rights issues.

“Saudi ownership of St James’ Park was always as much about image management for Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his government as it was about football.

“Under Mohammed Bin Salman, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia remains dire.”

Newcastle United fans will be looking forward to the investment promised for their club. Credit: PA

The Premier League released a statement when confirming the sale Thursday afternoon, saying: "The Premier League, Newcastle United Football Club and St James Holdings Limited have today settled the dispute over the takeover of the club by the consortium of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media.

"Following the completion of the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect.

"The legal disputes concerned which entities would own and/or have the ability to control the club following the takeover. All parties have agreed the settlement is necessary to end the long uncertainty for fans over the club’s ownership.

"The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.”

The sale of Newcastle United is a second major top-flight coup for the woman financier behind the deal.

Amanda Staveley has not only brokered Ashley’s £300m exit from St James’ Park but in 2008 was also behind the takeover of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour.

Staveley will take a 10% share in NUFC through her company PCP Capital Partners, so will the private equity firm run by the Reuben brothers and the remaining part will be held by the PIF.

When negotiations began, Ashley’s price to walk away was nearer £350m; the reduced amount reflects the uncertain state of football’s current finances.

Staveley and Ashley have haggled over Newcastle United before, four years ago. Then the deal broke down with Ashley describing the whole episode a “complete waste of time.”

Mike Ashley has been a controversial and little loved owner of Newcastle United. Credit: PA

Ashley has been a controversial and little loved owner and has been trying to get rid of the club more than a decade.

During his tenure he had a huge fallout with manager and club icon Kevin Keegan and saw the club relegated to the Championship twice.

More recently he’s attracted considerable criticism for using the government’s emergency job retention scheme to furlough non-playing staff at St James’ Park and for keeping his Sports Direct stores open beyond the official coronavirus first lockdown deadline.

Three months ago when it looked as if the deal had collapsed, Staveley told ITV News how the club would benefit if her consortium was, eventually, successful: "We are going to invest heavily into not only players but the academy, the ground, the infrastructure and the surrounding areas.

"Every single part of the club will be looked at and developed and we will make sure that the decisions we make, the fans will be a part of those decisions.”

And on the issue of Saudi Arabia’s human rights, Staveley points to progress: “I’ve seen incredible change in Saudi, I’ve seen incredible change with human rights."

Staveley will have one seat on the club’s board, as will Jamie Reuben and Governor of PIF, His Excellency Yasir Al-Rumayyan will be a Non-Exectutive Chairman.

In a statement the consortium said: ”We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football.

"We thank the Newcastle fans for their tremendously loyal support over the years and we are excited to work together with them.

“For PIF, one of the world’s most impactful investors, the acquisition is in line with its strategy of focusing on key sectors including Sports and Entertainment, and aligns with PIF’s mission to actively invest over the long term – in this case, to harness the Club’s potential and build upon the Club’s legacy."