Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah is hoping the Saudi-backed takeover of the city’s Premier League football club is “a sign of change” in the Middle East state.
Concerns over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record have been raised during the long-running takeover process, with Amnesty International describing Thursday’s announcement that the deal was done as “an extremely bitter blow for human rights defenders”.
Onwurah said she was “horrified” by the issues under discussion, but voiced hope that the 80 per cent controlling stake the Saudi Public Investment Fund has taken in the club is evidence of a desire to move forward.
In a statement, she said: “This takeover is not only about Newcastle, but Saudi Arabia, whose sovereign fund provides the majority of the financing.
“Many of us are horrified by the human rights record of Saudi Arabia which stands in direct opposition to the values of our city.
“I understand the new owners believe this investment is a sign of change and a desire to open up on the part of Saudi Arabia and I hope that is true.
“I recognise the power of sport to communicate and bring people together, but as an anti Apartheid activist for many years, I believe sport is political. Certainly, this takeover has shown that.”
However, Onwurah called on the Government to reform a football governance system she claimed is “broken”, and to allow fans to have a say in the way their clubs are run, with Magpies supporters having been at odds with previous owner Mike Ashley for much of his reign.
She said: “For Newcastle United fans – who make up the majority of my constituents – the last few years have been an agony of frustration, disappointment and deception, further poisoned by the undisguised contempt of the club’s owner and the Premier League for fans’ hopes and investment in the club.
“We need to ensure proper regulatory oversight of football so that this does not happen again.
“Fans do not get any say in football clubs’ ownership and I have campaigned with many of you against the actions of Mike Ashley and strongly condemned the role of the Premier League. I know that the end of the Ashley era is a day of celebration and joy for many.”
Onwurah added: “Football governance is broken as highlighted by the disastrous plans for a European Super League.
“Labour has long called for reform including proper independent regulation, an ongoing owners and directors test and an opportunity to get fans on boards so they can have a say in the club they love.
“Newcastle United fans are not the ones responsible for dictating the terms by which football club takeovers are decided or for regulating the global financial system which has seen the Saudi government and royal family make extensive investments in many sectors of the economy including Uber, Twitter and McLaren.
“It is for government to set out the appropriate regulatory frameworks.”
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