When news broke that the prospective takeover of Newcastle United had finally entered the Premier Leagues ‘Owners and Directors Test’, you could forgive Newcastle fans for thinking we were in the endgame and could see an end to Mike Ashleys reign as Newcastle owner.
Something that we assumed would be a fairly simple matter, based entirely on the the prospective new owners ability to run a football club, and had the funds available and business plan sufficient enough to please the Premier league and their lawyers.
As is always the case with Newcastle, nothing is ever that simple. What would follow, seemed to take the NUFC takeover away from being a football matter, and put it squarely in the political arena.
With the Public Investment Fund (PIF) from Saudi Arabia being a major player in the takeover and will ultimately have 80% of the club if the takeover were to go through, the way the country has been viewed, and alleged past transgressions were brought to the attention of the Premier League.
Amnesty International, who specialise in fighting violations against Human Rights in countries around the world, would right a letter to the Premier League to ask them not to authorise the purchase of the club by PIF, headed my Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS).
The main causes for concern from Amnesty were the Saudi’s war on Yemen, the imprisonment of activists and the alleged murder of Washington Post journalism Jamal Khashoggi . This would also lead Khashoggi’s fiance Hatice Cengiz to also write a letter to the Premier League asking them to stop the takeover, as she blames MBS for the murder, even though courts have ruled against such allegations.
Another objection that has come to the forefront, and even been the jump off point for some journalist’s to join the conversation, is the idea of Sports Washing. This is the idea that Saudi (and other countries) use their involvement in sports to cover up, or take the attention away from their human rights record.
One journalist in particular has taken it upon himself to become the voice of morality, implying Newcastle fans should take a stand against the proposed takeover, saying our celebration of #cans is an acceptance of the human rights issues, even suggesting that Wor Flags should have a flag of Khashoggi at the first game we are allowed back into the ground!
Therein lies the problem with the issue, as fans we are being asked to step away from the world of football and become political activists. Which has led to people trying to get the attention back to the matter at hand, a football club takeover. The idea that Wor Flags should be front and centre of this is laughable. The fans group has never had flags of a political nature, only ones to support the players and management! To ask them to take a political stand would take away from the good work the group does.
At a recent online town hall meeting held by MP for Newcastle central Chi Onwurah, and hosted by the Athletics George Caulkin gave voice to people on all sides of the argument. The feeling of fans was summed up perfectly by former head of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) and now Middle East resident Neil Mitchel, known by us on twitter as the @geordiedentist:
From my point of view, fans aren’t here to solve the world’s problems.We use our 90 minutes to escape the world.
What should be a joyous moment for Newcastle fans, in terms of Mike Ashley leaving, not necessarily who is coming in, has been curtailed by football matters taking a back seat.
I fully understand the concerns raised by Amnesty and Khashoggi’s fiance, and feel there is a place to raise these concerns, but within a football transaction is not it.
While all the attention has been on the negative towards Saudi Arabia, let us not forget some of the positive, during this covid-19 pandemic, the country have donated $500 million to the World Health Organisation (WHO), are responsible for helping and funding Artificial Intelligence for the NHS. The Kingdom also historically have a good relationship with us as a country, with MBS meeting the Prime Minister and the Queen.
While these are all ver valid political points, what we are talking about is the improvement of a Football club, and the test that allows them to do that is based on football matters, as well as convicted crimes. None of which to my knowledge MBS or anyone associated with the takeover are guilty of.
Yes these objections need be brought to peoples attention, but to get us to merge football and politics is, for me, wrong. As a fan I am excited by the takeover, and can’t wait to see what the club can become (I feel it may be a step above the entertainers and Sir Bobby’s tenure). This excitement does not take away the worry of the human rights record, but in my mind it is completely different conversations, and the two should not be held in the same arena.
I don’t think they will, but if the Premier League were to dismiss this on political reasons and not footballing reasons, there may be a lot of owners forced to sell their clubs, and lets not forget all the transgressions our current owner has made just in the past few weeks.
Keep football to football, and politics to parliament! thats why we have governing bodies for each element of life, to specialise in that department and not cross over to others.