Newcastle United – currently languishing second bottom of the Premier League – has just become “one of the world’s richest football clubs”, says Ian Watson on Football365. Thousands gathered outside St James’ Park stadium yesterday to celebrate the £305m buyout by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), some dressed in Saudi robes and waving beer cans in the air. Amanda Staveley, the British businesswoman who brokered the deal, insists the kingdom won’t be in direct control and bats away accusations of “sportswashing”. But supporters couldn’t care less. It’s been a bleak 14 years under Sports Direct supremo Mike Ashley: two relegations, stagnation and a vicious disregard for “one-club city” fans. Newcastle finally has a return “ticket to the elite”.
At what cost, says Barney Ronay in The Guardian. The chief operator behind the Saudi fund, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is – according to the CIA – personally responsible for ordering the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. “The bone-saw boys are at the door” – the FA’s “fit-and-proper-person test” be damned. This isn’t about sport, or even money. It is about hijacking beloved community clubs as projector screens for whichever sovereign state happens to be passing. In Saudia Arabia, homosexuality is punishable by “public whipping or chemical castration”. How does that square with the Premier League’s claim to be “against all forms of discrimination”?
The grim reality is that the Saudis’ PR drive will probably work, says Sam Wallace in The Daily Telegraph. Manchester City positioned itself as the saviour of post-industrial east Manchester when it was bought out by the UAE. The expectation is that the PIF consortium will similarly attach itself to the wholesome “Geordie nation” brand, dovetailing nicely with Boris Johnson’s levelling-up drive. In a region desperate for investment, “they are pushing at an open door”.
Frankly, I don’t see why Newcastle fans should have to defend something over which they have no control, says the club’s record goal-scorer, Alan Shearer, in The Athletic. And where do you draw the line? Other Premier League owners hail from Russia, China and Abu Dhabi – countries not celebrated for their human-rights records. Next year the World Cup will be held in Qatar, where an estimated 6,500 migrant workers have died working on new stadiums. Obviously I’m not thrilled my club are now representing an “authoritarian regime”. But eventually football makes hypocrites of all. Perhaps it’s just our turn.