Newcastle United is a unique football club, in that there is never a dull moment in the Toon. The Geordies live and breathe football, while it is somewhat corresponding that their club is always in the limelight.
The Magpies are in the process of a takeover, which has been dragged into a much-publicised saga, while also not falling short of controversy. The £300m imminent takeover consists of a consortium involving financer Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners, as well as the Saudi Arabian Public investment fund.
The public outcry is not aimed towards Staveley, but at the Saudi Arabian side of the deal, with the Public investment fund being controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; with the Prince as well as Saudi Arabia frequently criticised for their human rights record.
The first concerns were raised one week after the news broke (of the deal being agreed), by human rights group Amnesty International. The organisation published a letter to the Premier League to thoroughly scrutinise Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the takeover as well as their human rights history, as part of the Owners and Directors test.
Amnesty accused the Gulf country of “attempting to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football as a PR tool to improve its image” as well as attempting to “sportswash their abysmal human rights record”.
The group is openly critical of Saudi Arabia’s past actions, while they also questioned the impact on the image of the Premier League, should the deal be completed.
Another organisation who are outwardly against the takeover is media channel BeIN Sports. The broadcaster also wrote to the Premier League, urging the body to “fully interrogate” the deal “as a matter of urgency”.
The reasoning behind beIN Sports’ opposition is primarily related to their entanglement in a case of sports piracy in Saudi Arabia in the form of the channel ‘beoutQ’, which they describe as a “huge scale pirate service”. They believe that Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the piracy service threatens the value of the Premier League, stating “The danger of allowing the acquisition of a controlling or material interest (whether acquired directly or indirectly) in a major Premier League club by what is effectively the Saudi Arabian government cannot be ignored given the country’s past and continuing illegal actions and their direct impact upon the commercial interests of the Premier League, its member clubs, it’s broadcast partners and football in general”.
The broadcaster also adds “Not only has the potential acquirer of Newcastle United caused huge damage to your club’s and the Premier League’s commercial revenues; but the legacy of the illegal service will continue to impact you going forward.”
As beIn Sports is a Qatari-based channel, it is thought that their objection to the proposed takeover stems slightly from Qatar’s long-standing dispute with Saudi Arabia, contrary to their proclaimed piracy issues.
Politicians and Pundits
Not only are institutions scrutinising the takeover, the issue has made its way to Parliament. Politician Clive Betts stated that the Government should “take a role, not sit on the bench”, when examining the proposed deal. Another MP, Karl McCartney, also voiced his concerns, stating “The best way to start is to block, at the very least delay, the Saudi purchase of Newcastle”.
Pundits are also having their say on the takeover. Former Sky Sports presenter Richard Keys questioned the morality of the potential buyers, adding “I wish it wasn’t Newcastle United that the Saudi’s want to buy”.
Given Keys’ prior opinions on issues at Newcastle United, it is clear to see he has an agenda against the club, with his stance on the situation hardly surprising.
The composition of imploring letters is now well associated with the proposed takeover of Newcastle United, given the number of organisations and individuals who are against the deal. Another letter was written, this time addressed to the Toon faithful, rather than the Premier League.
This letter was composed by Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with Cengiz and many others accusing the Saudi Arabian government – and Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in particular – of ordering the execution. Bin Salman is of significance in this instance, as it is his fund who look set to be the majority stakeholders at the Toon.
Despite recognising the “dire situation” the club has been in under Mike Ashley, Cengiz pleads with the supporters to “protect your beloved club and City from the Crown Prince and those around him”. She further states “They are making this move not to help you… but solely to serve themselves”, while mentioning the Saudi Government’s prior controversial background in a somewhat guilt-tripping manner.
Intense scrutiny and possible agenda
Considering the mass public outcry that the takeover saga has produced, there is an element of double standards present.
If any other club were the focus of such a takeover, they would not have had such issues. Manchester United, Liverpool and Roma are some of the clubs which have been of Saudi Arabian interest in the past, however no such disputes had ascended. As well as this, fellow Premier League club Sheffield United also have a Saudi Arabian owner, while there was no scrutiny at all when the Blades were purchased.
A possible agenda from the media is evident against Newcastle United, the fans and the city. Such groups and individuals are inferred to be conceivably threatened as well as scared of the vast potential of the Magpies, along with what the club could become under wealthy and ambitious owners. The Toon have all the foundations to be a successful club and are simply lacking ambition from the hierarchy. Once this occurs, the position of any current top six Premier League team is under threat, therefore the fear from fellow Premier League associates is understandable.
The Toon army believe they are being unfairly targeted, with organisations and public figures mixing political actions with footballing matters, while the two should quite simply be separated. Magpies fans merely wish for their support to be respected; the club possess some of the most loyal, passionate and fanatical supporters across the globe, which has been evident in the number of fans flocking to home and away matches, even within the dismal, last 13 years under Ashley.
The takeover has given Newcastle United fans hope. Hope for a team that values its support and shares its ambition, both of which have been lacking for the past 13 years. As the deal is in the final stages of the Premier League owners and directors test, all the fans can do is wait.
Until then, further inquiries will most likely arise, while it feels like the whole world is against Newcastle United.