Amnesty calls on Premier League to reconsider Saudi-led Newcastle takeover
The takeover is believed to be imminent
Amnesty International has called on the Premier League to consider Saudi Arabia's human rights record before approval is given to a Saudi-backed takeover bid of Newcastle United.
A deal for the club is thought to be imminent and could be finalised by the end of Thursday after it was announced the previous day that Saudi Arabia lifted a long-standing ban on beIN Sports from broadcasting Premier League games in the country.
The dispute over beIN's inability to broadcast in the Kingdom, despite being the Middle East's official Premier League rights holder, had prevented the sale from going through at an earlier date.
With the matter now resolved and the £300m-deal expected to be complete within the next 24 hours, Amnesty's UK chief executive, Sacha Deshmukh has condemned it as "a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football."
As well as highlighting the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and jailing of activists, Deshmukh stressed the need for the Premier League to consider issues such as human rights before allowing wealthy owners to take charge of English clubs.
"Instead of allowing those implicated in serious human rights violations to walk into English football simply because they have deep pockets, we’ve urged the Premier League to change their owners’ and directors’ test to address human rights issues," Deshmukh said in a statement released to the PA news agency.
"Ever since this deal was first talked about we said it represented a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football.
"Saudi ownership of St James’ Park was always as much about image management for Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his government as it was about football.
"Under Mohammed Bin Salman, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia remains dire – with government critics, women’s rights campaigners, Shia activists and human defenders still being harassed and jailed, often after blatantly unfair trials.
"The closed-door trial of Jamal Khashoggi’s alleged killers was widely perceived to be a part of a wider whitewash by the authorities, and Saudi Arabia is accused of a catalogue of crimes under international humanitarian law during the long conflict in Yemen.
"The phrase ‘human rights’ doesn’t even appear in the (Premier League’s) owners’ and directors’ test despite English football supposedly adhering to FIFA standards.
"We’ve sent the Premier League a suggested new human rights-compliant test and we reiterate our call on them to overhaul their standards on this.
"As with Formula One, elite boxing, golf or tennis, an association with top-tier football is a very attractive means of rebranding a country or person with a tarnished reputation. The Premier League needs to better understand the dynamic of sportswashing and tighten its ownership rules."
The deal will see Mike Ashley's time as Newcastle owner come to an end, with the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), the state's sovereign wealth fund, taking control of 80% of the club.
The Premier League is said to have been given assurances that the deal for Newcastle will see no Saudi state involvement in the day-to-day running of the club, despite the fact that Mohammed bin Salman oversees the PIF.
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