On the 7th of October 2021 the long-awaited takeover of premier league football club Newcastle United was confirmed. A Saudi led consortium were the buyers and took over from previous owner Mike Ashley which brought his 14-year reign at the club to an end after taking over in 2007.
The takeover means Saudi Arabia public investment fund controls 80% stake in the club. With the Reuben brothers owning 20% and Amanda Staveley 10%. It is something that Newcastle fans have been waiting so anxiously to happen since it was enquired about over three years ago.
With Chelsea and Manchester City examples of what can happen with new owners, the aim for the investors is to turn Newcastle into a top team in the premier league and compete for trophies.
Former Newcastle United striker Demba Ba said “I’m not going to say top club because Newcastle is already a top club, but it’s going to be another top team, fighting for the title, fighting for the Champions League, and it’s going to be only great for the Premier League and for Newcastle also.”
However, with all the joy and excitement that comes with this ordeal, it has come to light that Saudi Arabia have been accused with having serious human rights problems. These include issues such as the banning of going to protests and people going to a public demonstration is a criminal act and you can be prosecuted for it, this came into place in 2011.
There has also been lots of reports claiming that there is torture in police custody and no freedom of speech. There are many organisations trying to combat these issues not just in Saudi Arabia but all over the world. The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like amnesty international because they know what they are doing is wrong.
So why is this not highlighted enough and why have they been able to buy Newcastle? A term that could be used to describe this is ‘Sports washing’. This is when the practice of an individual group, corporation or nation state use a prestigious sport in order to improve its reputation. This can be hosting a major event (such as the Olympics) or the purchase or sponsorship of a sporting team, which is what has happened in this instance.
The reaction from the media and fans around the country has been an interesting one. When looking at many articles about the takeover, most of them start by highlighting the facts of the situation. The who what when where why, it takes a good few paragraphs before anything is mentioned about the human rights allegations. Looking at various media products I think that the general feel is that a lot of people are happy enough to turn a blind eye to the allegations because they know how much the club needs this investment.
Ex professional footballer and current pundit Jamie Redknapp says that he thinks a lot of fans do not care about who runs their football club so long as they are winning which I think leaves room for an interesting debate. A lot of the articles I have read all follow a similar structure, they speak about the main facts and numbers and then towards the end the human rights issues are mentioned. It never seems to be that the human rights are spoken about first which to me shows how the media want to turn a blind eye to it.