Human rights organization Amnesty International has written to the Premier League to point out the blindingly obvious: league officials must consider Saudi human rights situation in Newcastle United deal.
In the letter to Premier League CEO Richard Masters, Amnesty UK’s Director Kate Allen says, “Unless the Premier League pauses and looks seriously at the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia it risks becoming a patsy.”
As an Amnesty International statement on the proposed takeover highlights:
Amnesty has repeatedly warned that Saudi Arabia under the Crown Prince has embarked on a very active programme of “sportswashing” and other efforts to dramatically alter international perceptions of the country, partly to obscure Saudi Arabia’s extremely poor human rights record. In recent years, the Saudi authorities have hosted a string of high-profile international sporting events, but the acquisition of Newcastle United would be Saudi Arabia’s first move into ownership of a top-tier football club.
Meanwhile, under Bin Salman’s leadership there has been a sweeping crackdown on human rights, with government critics and human rights defenders arrested, tortured and put on trial, while at the same time there has been a marked increase in executions after unfair trials in the country.
Among those presently on trial and facing a jail sentence is Loujain Al-Hathloul, a prominent women’s human rights defender arrested in May 2018.
While exiting owner Mike Ashley was far from ideal, especially for Newcastle United fans, be careful what you wish for. As Barney Ronay points out in The Guardian:
Mike Ashley: pig-headed retail magnate. Saudi Arabia: blood-stained inherited dictatorship. Mike Ashley: zero hours contracts in his sports shops. Saudi Arabia: beheaded 37 men in a single day. Mike Ashley: showed disrespect to Rafa Benítez. Saudi Arabia: murdered and dismembered Jamal Khashoggi.
Ashley wants to sell you a cheap nylon tracksuit. Saudi Arabia wants to sell you a soft-focus view of its oppressive regime, safe in the knowledge that a mega-spending spree will provide instant distraction, thereby treating the fanbase of a great British football club as useful idiots in the soft‑power game. “We’re getting our club back,” has been a refrain in the last few days. Really? Because it looks more like something more precious is being taken away.
Meanwhile, the chances of the Premier League considering Saudi Arabia’s human rights record? Zero per cent. If they did, this deal would never go through under any fit and proper owner test.