Amnesty ‘still waiting for Premier League to take action against sportswashing’

Newcastle United takeover
(Image credit: Owen Humphreys)

Amnesty International has renewed its call for the Premier League to consider human rights under its ownership test as Newcastle’s Saudi-backed owners prepare to celebrate six month at the helm.

Amanda Staveley’s consortium, which is 80 per cent backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, formally completed its takeover at St James’ Park on October 7 last year after the governing body accepted its reassurances over who would control the club.

The human rights campaigners accused the new owners of “sportswashing” as their buy-out was confirmed, and have since held talks with the Premier League to urge officials to tighten the regulations amid the repercussions of the sanctions imposed on Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich.

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Amnesty International UK’s chief executive officer Sacha Deshmukh said: “The Saudi buy-out of Newcastle exposed the glaring inadequacies of English football’s ownership rules – with no bar for those complicit in acts of torture, slavery, human trafficking or even war crimes – yet it hasn’t led to the change we urgently need to see.

“The Saudi takeover at St James’ Park was a huge wake-up call to the Premier League over the need to introduce a human rights-compliant ownership test.

“Six months on from the Saudi deal, and with serious disarray at Chelsea, we’re still waiting for the Premier League to take action to stop English football being used for blatant sportswashing.”

Helen MacNamara, the Premier League’s chief policy and corporate affairs officer, addressed the issue when she appeared before the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee last month, describing the owners’ and directors’ test as “an evolving thing” and revealing an independent panel was being assembled to assist its board in decision-making.

In addition, she acknowledged the help of Amnesty and other partners and said “we absolutely do recognise the case for change”, and that ongoing consultations with shareholders will continue at the league’s AGM in June.

Newcastle head coach Eddie Howe, who was installed as Steve Bruce’s replacement by the new owners within weeks of their arrival, found himself in the firing line when he opted not to discuss the club’s ownership in his post-match press conference at Chelsea on March 13 as it emerged 81 people had been executed in the Gulf state.

Amanda Staveley and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi (left) with newly-appointed Newcastle head coach Eddie Howe

Amanda Staveley and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi (left) with newly-appointed Newcastle head coach Eddie Howe (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Howe, who said he was qualified only to talk about football, later vowed to read up on the situation.

Deshmukh said: “When Saudi Arabia swooped in and bought Newcastle, it was one of the most glaring examples of modern sportswashing the world has ever seen.

“With Mohammed bin Salman now effectively Newcastle’s owner, the Saudi state will see the club as another means to try to shape Saudi Arabia’s international image and distract from the country’s appalling human right record.

“The Saudi authorities clearly see Newcastle as a long-term sportswashing project, but for now we’re seeing Eddie Howe and sections of the fanbase dodging questions about Saudi human rights abuses – neither of which is healthy for football.”

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