Newcastle manager says trip to Saudi Arabia a 'football decision' amid sportswashing concerns
Newcastle United is set to head to Saudi Arabia after their Premier league game against Leeds on Saturday, amid sustained concerns that the football team is being used to “sportswash” the kingdom’s human rights record.
The trip has been touted by manager Eddie Howe as a “football decision for the benefit of the players”.
"There will be no distraction from my side, it's about the training and the players and being focused on the next game. We are just doing it in a different environment to bring players together," said Howe, who was appointed by the club’s new owners in November.
"The facilities and everything are going to be first class, we will train hard and that will be my only focus”.
Howe declined to comment on Riyadh’s human rights record, adding that he did not know whether he would meet Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who chairs the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) that owns 80% of the club.
“I don’t know any of those details at the moment,” Howe said.
Saudi Arabia’s PIF took over Newcastle in October in a move that triggered protests from human rights groups and other Premier League managers.
Despite efforts to rebrand Saudi Arabia by Crown Prince Mohammed, concerns still remain over the kingdom's jailing of activists and its involvement in Yemen's brutal war.
The killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in 2o18 also remains fresh in the minds of many, with Prince Mohammed widely suspected of direct involvement.
Amnesty International UK's chief executive Sacha Deshmukh warned that the trip could "turn into yet another PR opportunity for the Saudi authorities".
"Newcastle players, the manager and all backroom staff ought to be prepared to speak out about human rights while in Saudi Arabia," Deshmukh was quoted by the BBC as saying.