Rights campaigners warn Newcastle fans over Saudi takeover

'Short term gain, long term pain': Rights activists warn Newcastle fans celebrating Saudi takeover
3 min read
10 October, 2021
While Newcastle fans took to the streets to celebrate their club's takeover by a Saudi wealth fund, a human rights campaigner warned of long-term negative consequences.

The Saudi takeover of Newcastle United has been criticised by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International [source: Getty]

Human rights campaigners have warned Newcastle fans celebrating Saudi takeover of the football team of the "long-term pain" in store for the club.

Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund completed a £300m buyout of the Premier League club on Thursday, prompting fans of the club that has been unable to compete with England's top clubs to rush to the streets in celebration.

However, rights campaigner and former Leeds United boss David Haigh told The New Arab that the takeover would "end in tears" providing a "short term gain, but long term pain". 

"I understand why the Toon Army should be excited about the money the Saudis will bring in, and in the short term, it is likely to improve the funds the club’s development and coaching staff will have at their disposal," said Haigh. 

But, from an "ethics point of view", he added, it is "all wrong". 

Haigh was involved in the takeover of Leeds United by a Dubai-based company GFH Capital in 2012, helping to bring a Gulf country into the English premier league. 

However, after the deal, he was arbitrarily arrested and detained in Dubai for 22 months. Since then he worked as a human rights campaigner and founded NGO Detained International. 

"I know all about Middle East takeovers of English football clubs," Haigh told The New Arab, "And this one stinks. It is Saudi Arabia trying to detract from its appalling human rights record."

Saudi Arabia has a long-standing history of human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings. 

This month marks three years since Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Istanbul in a brutal assassination the CIA and MI6 have linked to senior Saudi officials. 

The Saudis are heavily involved in the war in Yemen, where war crimes have been committed on all sides and its population are suffering from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. 

The Gulf country also persecutes members of the LGBT minority and marginalises women in society, and has been accused by rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of "sportswashing" its human rights records.

"They have got human rights issues. Everyone knows that. But we need this. We need it so bad," said a Newcastle fan to AFP. 

"The club, the city, we've been put down loads of times. We're a sleeping giant and it's about time. It's lovely for the club and for the region. Everyone's happy," he added.

The Saudi takeover has been pursued since 2017 but stalled and then collapsed last year over concerns about how much control the Saudi state would have in the running of Newcastle. 

It led to a protracted legal fight that only ended this week when the Public Investment Fund offered assurances to the Premier League that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and in turn the state, would not have any say in the team.

"There's a fanciful notion doing the rounds that, because the buyer is the Saudi Public Investment Fund, this is not the state buying Newcastle but a private company. It’s nonsense!" Haigh said.

"The PIF is the state’s sovereign wealth fund, and it’s overseen by Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince who was heavily implicated in the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And he will be involved in the club, however much the bid denies it."