The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) acquired the Premier League’s Newcastle United football club on Thursday. The sale has ushered in an unprecedented new era for one of England’s foremost football clubs.
While the sale marks the end of the 14 year tenure of current owner Mike Ashley, a a figure that was widely disliked amongst the club’s fans, on the other hand it issues in an era of political uncertainty, as many believe that the PIF intends to use the team to “sporswash” the Saudi Arabian regime.
A statement released by the Premier League confirmed the sale: “The Premier League, Newcastle United Football Club and St James Holdings Limited have today settled the dispute over the takeover of the club by the consortium of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media.”
“Following the completion of the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect. The legal disputes concerned which entities would own and/or have the ability to control the club following the takeover.”
“All parties have agreed the settlement is necessary to end the long uncertainty for fans over the club’s ownership. The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.”
“All parties are pleased to have concluded this process which gives certainty and clarity to Newcastle United Football Club and their fans.”
Who are the PIF and why do some suspect they are using Newcastle United for “sportswashing”
Newcastle United is actually being bought for $408 million by a consortium– a group of Saudi Arabian investors– but 80% of the purchase is being made by the PIF. The PIF is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, which means that how it spends its money is directly connected to the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the chairman of the fund. The Premier League has stated that it received legally binding confirmation that the Saudi kingdom itself will not have authority over the club..
Governor of PIF Yasir Al-Rumayyan will step forward as Newcastle’s new non-executive chairman. Al-Rumayyan said that: “We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United one of the most famous clubs in English football. We thank the Newcastle fans for their tremembously loyal support over the years and we are excited to work together with them.”
But human rights organization Amnesty International has come out demanding that the Premier Leauge resist the sale and acknowledge it as an attempt by the Saudi government to minimize their poor human rights record under the banner of the world’s most popular sport:
“Ever since this deal was first talked about we said it represented a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football,” Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International’s U.K. chief executive, said in response to the sale.