Is Saudi Arabia’s acquisition of Newcastle causing the British government to abandon interest in human rights?

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Is Saudi Arabia’s acquisition of Newcastle causing the British government to abandon interest in human rights?

Following two years of hard talks, Saudi Arabia was able to buy Newcastle United F.C., the British soccer club, for £300 million in collaboration with two other wealthy West Asian neighbours, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This is the third acquisition of an English sports franchise by wealthy Arab Sheikhs from the Persian Gulf. In the summer of 2008, the UAE also purchased Manchester City. Three years later, the ‘Qatar Investment Authority’ bought Paris Saint-Germain in 2011. Mohammed bin Salman, the flamboyant Saudi Crown Prince (MBS), spent hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase Newcastle United by offering unique incentives to the British to facilitate the club’s transfer. The Saudis are said to be trying to purchase Newcastle United to create a brand for the Saudi regime or to use sports as a means of money laundering. Since becoming Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in a semi-successful coup d’état, MBS has employed many strategies to whitewash the kingdom’s notorious image in the international community’s eyes and conceal internal repression external aggression, such as the war against Yemeni civilians. “Cristiano Ronaldo,” “Lionel Messi,” and other international soccer stars were approached by Saudi authorities to visit the oil-rich Saudi Arabia in February 2020, but both players declined the offer. In the last three years, MBS has also utilized football to repair his anti-human rights image. Initially, he tried to buy the prestigious A.S. Roma football club in Italy. Bin Salman’s high-stakes effort to purchase the renowned Italian club was greeted with fierce resistance, and Khashoggi’s horrific murder put an end to the deal, preventing the Saudi tyrant from acquiring the club. In the second phase of this massive public advertising campaign, Saudi Arabia attempted to purchase Manchester United, the most famous English club. However, this transaction was also cancelled due to the Saudi atrocities in Yemen, which amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

According to observers, MBS’ main point of contact in the U.K. is British businesswoman Amanda Staveley, who has been criticised for her infamous connections to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prince Andrew. Staveley has had long-standing ties to Middle Eastern sheikhs and the British royal family, a former British model and a self-styled and resourceful entrepreneur. Because of her ties, she creates an atmosphere where Arab despots looking to buy English football teams would find suitable. In recent years, Staveley has served as a major advisor to Arab investors in English football. For example, in 2008, Sheikh Mansour Al Nahyan allegedly paid her ten million pounds for her assistance in brokering a contract between Manchester City and the UAE. Despite the Saudis’ purchase of Newcastle United, human rights groups have continued to rebuke the Saudis for their black human rights record. Saudi Arabia uses sporting events and other similar tactics to distract the world public opinion from its human rights abuses, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), reacting to the deal. Given Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations, Human Rights Watch has urged Newcastle supporters to reject any potential Saudi financial aid for their club. HRW described Saudi ownership of Newcastle as a threat to the game, asking players, fans, and the media to contact FIFA and the Premier League to demand that human rights be respected and that Saudi ownership be revoked. In reaction to the Saudi regime’s harsh persecution, the head of Amnesty International in the United Kingdom stated that Newcastle supporters’ tear of joy is similar to the genuine tears of individuals who have suffered horrible injustice in Saudi Arabia. Despite owning and controlling 80% of the club, the Saudis have just one non-executive member on the board of directors, owing to British worries about the Saudi royal family’s influence in Newcastle United.

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