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‘Horse has bolted’ on sovereign wealth funds owning clubs – Rick Parry

Italy v England – UEFA Euro 2020 Final – Wembley Stadium
(Image credit: Mike Egerton)

EFL chair Rick Parry says it is too late for a discussion on the potential perils of sovereign wealth funds investing in football, saying: “That horse has bolted.”

Newcastle are now 80 per cent owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) following the completion of a takeover deal on Thursday.

While a lot of the attention has been on the country’s abysmal human rights record, it has also again raised questions over whether investment funds run on behalf of a state were having a distortive, disruptive impact on football.

The Premier League says it has received legally-binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not have control over the club, but it remains the case that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is the chair of the PIF.

Asked whether football had to get to grips with such funds, Parry told the PA news agency: “It is a bit late, not just at the English level but at the European level.

“We’ve got Manchester City and Paris St Germain in the same Champions League group, they have produced some breathtaking football over the last year in the latter stages of the Champions League.

“But if, to produce that level of football and that level of team, you have to be owned by a sovereign wealth fund, is that where football wants to be? Well, the problem is, it’s where football is.

“So it’s a bit late to have a philosophical discussion on whether we want sovereign wealth funds to own football clubs. That horse has bolted.”

Newcastle are second bottom in the Premier League, albeit after only seven games, and can only flex their new financial muscle in the January transfer window.

The EFL’s owners’ and directors’ test (OADT) is aligned with the Premier League’s but in the event of Newcastle’s relegation to the Championship, the owners of Newcastle would have to resubmit information to the EFL.

Amnesty International has called on the Premier League to make its OADT human rights-compliant and for it to overhaul its standards.

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Parry says the EFL’s test is “constantly reviewed”.

“We’ve made no secret of the fact that we want to improve our financial regulation,” he said.

“Over the last two years we have been robust, we’ve been pretty firm, we have resisted quite a number of applications.

“We don’t specifically have clauses on human rights. We have a lot of overseas owners at every level of the EFL and you have to constantly respond to changing circumstances.

“We’ve made no pretence that it’s always work in progress for us. Can our owners’ and directors’ test be improved still further? Yes, clearly. But as I said, the last two years, I think we’ve actually done pretty well, we’ve avoided a few potential banana skins.

“But these are huge dilemmas for football, on a scale which we have probably never had to address before.”

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Meanwhile, United with Pride, the Magpies’ LGBTQ+ inclusive supporters group, is hoping its visibility on the global sporting stage can help to improve conditions for the LGBTQ+ community in the Middle East state, where same-sex intimacy is criminalised.

Secretary Mark Bethan told the PA news agency: “Because of the global audience that the Premier League gets – it is shown worldwide – for us having more visibility and any other fan group having more visibility in the stands, it’s only going to help to improve that visibility across the world.

“That’s what we want. We want to show what good we are doing in the UK as an example across the world and use it as a positive. That’s our focus.

“As a fan group and as a bunch of fans, we don’t have any capability of changing things. We weren’t the decision-makers, we didn’t decide any of these things.

“But what we want to do is harness the good that we’ve done already and make sure we continue to improve the visibility and to do that across the world to let those people across the world, including those that maybe are in countries that don’t have the levels that we do have in the UK, that this is what’s possible, we will support you and we will continue to make sure that we’re as visible as we can be and use that to improve things across the world.”

Bethan welcomed early indications that Amanda Staveley, the financier who put together the consortium which has bought the club, wants to continue to work on diversity and eradicating discrimination.

He said: “As with any fan, it’s not a choice to support Newcastle – as has probably been noticed with our form over the last few years.

“You’re born into it, you’re born as a Newcastle fan. It’s something that’s ingrained in you and what we want to make sure is that anyone who is a Newcastle United supporter and wants to support the club can do so in a way that’s best for them and safe for them and inclusive.”