To the jubilation of its supporters, Newcastle United Football Club is no longer under the gruelling ownership of the infamous Mike Ashley. Rather, the new majority shareholders of the club, owning an 80% stake and with assets totalling an estimated £350 billion, are Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). Newcastle United’s supporters may well have to pinch themselves to believe it, but the Magpies are now by far and away the richest club in the land. However, in true Newcastle United fashion, PIF don’t half bring their own share of controversy to Tyneside.
Regarding the takeover, the Premier League said that it has “now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club”, insinuating that rather, PIF will act as a separate legal entity. The objective is clear: to reassure football fans that the chequered political and ethical past of Saudi Arabia is not to be shared by PIF nor Newcastle United. However, with PIF being formed in 1971 with the sole intention of investing funds on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government, and with six of the seven members of the PIF board being Saudi government ministers, not to mention its chairman being none other than the Crown Prince himself, Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud, the Premier League’s statement doesn’t exactly reassure as much as it does raise doubt.
Newcastle United, whether its supporters like it or not, is now directly tied and in partnership with a nation whose past and present is contentious to say the least. LGBTQ+ rights in the nation are to this day non-existent, with homosexuality being punishable by death, and the state’s views towards women, despite recent improvements, have long been rooted in institutionalised sexism. Moreover, it was only three years ago when the CIA concluded that it was the very same Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud, who ordered for the assassination and dismemberment of critical Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, within the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Whilst the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City also have direct ties to nations with similarly controversial viewpoints (Qatar and the UAE, respectively), Saudi Arabia, it must be said, is a level above in terms of their anti-humanitarianism.
For the city of Newcastle, its football club and their supporters, this takeover is, in strictly footballing terms, undoubtedly a ‘good’ thing. Newcastle United will be crowned Premier League champions, and will be regularly competing for the Champions League in the next decade or so; I feel very confident about that. But at what cost? Every title, every goal and every victory, bloodstained by the unethical and inexcusable acts of its owners and their blatant ill-intentions of ‘sportswashing’.
This takeover marks a considerable step backwards in the progress that English football was and has been making in the past decade, from the increased coverage and continuous development of the women’s game, to the greater representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the sport. It is a harrowing reminder of how money is, and will continue to be, placed above all else in football.