Saudi buyout of England soccer team sparks Premier League debate

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Fans of English football club Crystal Palace were in a provocative mood. They unfurled a banner in the bleachers of the team’s stadium in south London during a game against Newcastle United, mocking their rivals’ new owner, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, who was pictured wielding a bloodstained scimitar.

The banner included a mockup of the pseudo-categories that Palace fans have suggested England football authorities require from the owners of the country’s top football teams. The demands included terrorism, beheadings, civil rights violations and murders, and they were checked off on a clipboard in the banner under the headline “Premier League Owners Test”.

Following complaints of racism, the UK Metropolitan Police have opened an investigation, saying in a statement: “Any allegation of racist abuse will be taken very seriously.” This month, police announced that they did not intend to prosecute. “Following an assessment, the officers concluded that no offense had been committed. No further action will be taken, ”police said in a press release.

But the purchase of Newcastle United for $ 415million in October by a Saudi-led consortium has sparked fire and is fueling a wider debate over England’s premier football league, which is not just England’s premier football league. The richest and most watched league in the world of football, but also apparently a magnet for oligarchs, authoritarian regimes and autocrats, critics say.

FILE – Newcastle United’s Jacob Murphy, left, and Brighton’s Marc Cucurella fight for the ball during an English Premier League match at AMEX stadium in Brighton, England on 6 November 2021.

Two of the 20 Premier League teams – Manchester City and now Newcastle – belong to authoritarian regimes. Two others – Chelsea and Wolverhampton Wanders – belong to oligarchs with ties to autocratic regimes. And another, Southampton, is owned by a Chinese businessman whose final successful bid for the team was delayed as English football authorities investigate allegations of bribery and corruption against him in China.

Some referral links also raised eyebrows. Earlier this year, Arsenal signed an extension of a partnership agreement with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) that will see the club earn $ 55 million by 2025 for a “Visit Rwanda” logo on the left sleeve of the club. players.

The country’s ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) is increasingly criticized by international rights activists for threatening those who criticize the party. Human Rights Watch documented from local sources “the arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture in official and unofficial detention centers.”

Amnesty International has criticized the Saudi takeover of Newcastle, saying the deal is “a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to wash away their appalling human rights record with the glamor of top football”.

In February, US intelligence agencies concluded in a report that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in Istanbul on his way to the Saudi consulate there. and his body was cut up. In the report, the agencies alleged that the prince approved a plan to “capture or kill” Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia rejected the report, calling it “negative, false and unacceptable”.

FILE - A van linking the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia drives outside a stadium during a match between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, at St James' Park in Newcastle, England, October 17, 2021.

FILE – A van linking the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia drives outside a stadium during a match between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, at St James’ Park in Newcastle, England, October 17, 2021.

Premier League officials have said they have received assurances that Saudi authorities will not be involved in the day-to-day management of Newcastle.

But Amnesty UK Managing Director Sacha Deshmukh told reporters: “Instead of allowing those implicated in serious human rights violations to enter English football just because they have deep pockets, we urged the Premier League to change owners and directors. test to resolve human rights issues.

The human rights group wants a new human rights compliant test to be central to the approval of applications for clubs.

English football fans tend to be ambivalent about foreign owners buying their beloved clubs – often critical when a buyout deal is first announced, but elated when deep pocket funding propels them up. team towards success.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family and Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, bought Manchester City in 2008 and has since reportedly spent nearly $ 3 billion to buy top players and coaches. Under majority ownership, the team have won the Premier League five times.

Newcastle fans, however, have not shied away from celebrating the purchase of their squad, which has had little success in recent years and is currently second-to-last in the league. Chelsea, owned by Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch closely linked to President Vladimir Putin, currently leads the league, Manchester City second. As with Manchester City, with Chelsea – under the ownership of Abramovich, the team has become a football Goliath.

Fans at St James’ Park in Newcastle, north-east England, were jubilant when the Saudi deal was announced last month, saying they hoped it would mark a turnaround for the club. Fans waved Saudi flags and donned Saudi-style faux ghutras (scarves).

Lawmaker John Nicolson, a member of the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, condemned the scenes in a panel hearing shortly after the deal was released. In a committee hearing, he said: “I’m trying to imagine what it must be like to be Jamal Khashoggi’s widow, when her husband was cut up and murdered. And she sees numpties (silly people) dancing in cod-like Arab dresses outside Newcastle United. “

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