Posts Tagged ‘Newcastle’

Premier League Football and human rights: continuing saga

March 25, 2022
Newcastle United players warm up before the Premier League match at the Amex Stadium, Brighton, United Kingdom on July 20, 2020.
Newcastle United players warm up before the Premier League match at the Amex Stadium, Brighton, United Kingdom on July 20, 2020. © 2020 AP Images

The English Premier League should immediately adopt and implement human rights policies that would prohibit governments implicated in grave human rights abuses from securing stakes in Premier League clubs to whitewash their reputations, Human Rights Watch said 0n 23 March 2022. The ban should be extended to state entities that they control, abusive state leaders, and individuals funding or otherwise assisting in serious abuses. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/07/human-rights-compliance-test-for-football-clubs/

On March 14, 2022, media reported that a consortium led by a Saudi media group closely connected to the Saudi government had expressed interest in purchasing Chelsea Football Club. This reinforces the urgent need for the Premier League to adopt policies to protect clubs and their supporters, before any sale takes place, from being implicated in efforts to whitewash rights abuses. The Premier League’s approval of the sale of Newcastle United to a business consortium led by the Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), a government-controlled entity implicated in serious human rights abuses, was conducted in an opaque manner and without any human rights policy in place. The Premier League should reconsider the approval of the Newcastle United sale. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/30/newcastles-takeover-bid-from-saudi-arabia-welcomed-by-many-fans-but-it-remains-sportswashing/]

Allowing Newcastle United to be sold to a business consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, an institution chaired by a state leader linked to human rights abuses, has exposed the farcical inadequacies of the Premier League’s Owners and Directors Test,” said Yasmine Ahmed, UK advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “As another consortium with Saudi government links eyes acquiring Chelsea, the Premier League should move fast to protect the league and its clubs from being a fast-track option for dictators and kleptocrats to whitewash their reputations.”

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Premier League CEO, Richard Masters, on March 15, to express concerns over the Newcastle United decision and to raise further concerns about the involvement of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in facilitating human rights abuses.

The October 7, 2021 Premier League statement announcing the sale said that the league had “received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.” The league did not disclose what these assurances were, nor explain how they would be legally binding. Instead, the Premier League appears to have acquiesced to the notion that the Public Investment Fund is separate from the Saudi state, even though its chairman is the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, its board members are nearly all currently serving ministers and other high-level officials, and it is a sovereign wealth fund that reports to the government’s Council of Economic and Development Affairs…

Human Rights Watch has significant concerns around the role of the investment fund itself in facilitating human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch wrote to the fund’s governor, Yasir al-Rumayyan, who, according to a LinkedIn page attributed to al-Rumayyan and various media reports, was managing director of the fund between 2015 and 2019, on December 21, 2021, and again on March 15 requesting his response to allegations of serious human rights violations associated with the fund. He has not responded. Al-Rumayyan is also Newcastle United’s new nonexecutive chairman.

Human Rights Watch has reviewed internal Saudi government documents submitted to a Canadian court as part of an ongoing legal claim filed by a group of Saudi companies against a former intelligence official. The documents showed that in 2017, one of Mohammed bin Salman’s advisers ordered al-Rumayyan, then the fund’s “supervisor,” to transfer 20 companies into the fund as part of an anti-corruption campaign. There is a risk that these companies were “transferred” from their owners without due process.

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The Premier League has a responsibility to respect human rights throughout all its operations. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights sets out these responsibilities, including the expectation that businesses will adopt specific policies and conduct due diligence to identify any risks of contributing to human rights harm. Such harm may include conferring reputational benefits that help cover up human rights abuses. The Premier League’s handbook does not include human rights under its “owners and directors test,” even though ownership of prominent football clubs by state entities or individuals close to state leaders is on the rise throughout Europe. This gap has allowed Saudi Arabia to employ its “sportswashing” strategy in the Premier League.

On March 3, the Premier League said it was considering adding a human rights component to its owners’ and directors’ test as it reviews its governance and regulations, and Masters told the Financial Times that this had come under “a lot of scrutiny” and league officials were looking to see if “we need to be more transparent and whether those decisions should be approved by an independent body.” The Premier League should also investigate the allegations of involvement of the fund’s and al-Rumayyan’s involvement in abuses, including Khashoggi’s murder, and publish its findings.
 
Potential purchase of Chelsea FC by Saudi-led consortium
The Saudi-led consortium that has reportedly made a £2.7bn bid to purchase Chelsea is being spearheaded by the Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG), one of the largest publishing companies in Middle East, headed by a prominent Saudi media executive, Mohammed al Khereiji. The company owns more than 30 media outlets including Asharq Al-Awsat, Asharq News, and Arab News – media outlets with an apparently pro-Saudi government bias – and has its headquarters in Saudi Arabia where there are almost no independent media. Al- Khereiji is the only name mentioned in any reports regarding the Chelsea bid, and it is unclear who else is involved in the consortium.

While the media company has reportedly gone out of its way to deny any direct links to the Saudi government, it has repeatedly been reported that the group has longstanding close ties to former and current Saudi rulers. Between 2002 and 2015, three of King Salman’s sons chaired it. The position was then filled by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan, who is reported to have close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, until 2018, when he was appointed culture minister. Prince Badr is also chairman of the Misk Art Institute, a subsidiary of the crown prince’s non-profit Misk Foundation.

In 2020, Al-Khereiji who holds several high-level positions, was appointed board chairman of MBC Media Solutions, a commercial advertising and sales unit created in partnership between MBC Group, a media conglomerate owned by the Saudi government, and Engineer Holding Group (EGH), the media company’s parent company which al-Khereiji also heads.

Given how closely connected the media company is to Saudi state-controlled entities, how little independence the Saudi-based media outlets under its control have, and how much influence it wields – it claims it has a combined monthly reach of 165 million people – it contributes heavily to promoting the image of the Saudi government.  

The Saudi government has gone all-out in the past years to bury its human rights abuses under public spectacles and sporting events,” Ahmed said. “Until there is real accountability for these abuses by the Saudi leadership, those silently benefiting from the kingdom’s largess risk being an accomplice in whitewashing their crimes.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/23/english-premier-league-urgently-adopt-human-rights-policy

Human Rights Compliance test for football clubs

August 7, 2020

Saudi Arabia’s protracted effort to purchase Newcastle United finally came to an end last week © Getty Images

Amnesty International UK has called on the English Premier League to update its Owners’ and Directors’ test, and has sent a proposed updated test to the Premier League’s Chief Executive, Richard Masters. Criticising the current test as “hopelessly unsuited” to the task of ensuring proper scrutiny of the human rights records of those trying to buy into English football clubs, Amnesty has commissioned a new human rights-compliant test from corporate lawyers David Chivers QC and Seamus Woods of Erskine Chambers, together with a detailed legal analysis.

The Premier League has recently been supportive of Black Lives Matter solidarity protests from players and clubs, while Amnesty has also praised clubs – including many in the Premier League – for their part in the Football Welcomes project celebrating the contribution refugees make to the game.

Amnesty’s intervention comes as the highly controversial attempt by a consortium of buyers – including Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – to purchase Newcastle United Football Club has thrown a spotlight on human rights issues surrounding the ownership of Premier League clubs.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/31/saudi-backed-investors-pull-out-of-newcastle-deal/] Amnesty’s legal analysis shows that the league’s current Owners’ and Directors’ test has numerous serious shortcomings. For example, the test bars someone on the sex offenders register from becoming an owner or director, but has no such prohibition for those complicit in acts of torture, slavery, human trafficking or even war crimes.

Amnesty’s analysis – “Proposed change to the Premier League Rules Owners’ and Directors’ test to address international human rights and discrimination” – points out that the phrase “human rights” does not even appear in the text of the test despite English football supposedly adhering to FIFA standards – article 3 of FIFA’s statutes says that the international football body is “committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights”.

Among other things, the new test from Amnesty calls for the Premier League Board to consider whether a prospective owner or director has been complicit in serious violations of international human rights law or any conduct that is at odds with the Premier League’s anti-discrimination policy.

Premier League must act on sportswashing

In April, Amnesty wrote to Richard Masters raising concerns about the Newcastle takeover, warning it was part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to “sportswash” its human rights record – with investment in top-level sport used as a “rebranding” tool to deflect attention away from human rights issues. Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s leadership there has been a crackdown in Saudi Arabia, with government critics and human rights defenders arrested – including prominent women’s rights activists – tortured and put on trial. In October 2018, the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, a killing which the UN has said was “overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level officials” of the Saudi state. (For more information on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, go here).

Amnesty warned that the Premier League risked “becoming a patsy” of Saudi sportswashing efforts unless it fully considered the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia as part of its scrutiny of the Newcastle deal – scrutiny its current Owners’ and Directors’ test failed to provide. After the collapse of the Saudi-Newcastle deal last week, Amnesty said the attempted purchase had been a “blatant attempt” at sportswashing, with the Saudi authorities attempting to “buy into the passion, prestige and pride of Tyneside football”.

Amnesty’s new letter to Mr Masters urges the Premier League boss to give “careful consideration” to the proposed improved test, and offers to set up a meeting between the Premier League, Amnesty and David Chivers QC to discuss the matter further.

Football Welcomes is an Amnesty UK initiative celebrating the contribution players from a refugee background make to the game, while highlighting the role football and football clubs play in creating welcoming communities for refugees and people seeking asylum. Over the Football Welcomes weekend in April, clubs nationwide stage special matches or tournaments, offer free tickets to games, arrange stadium tours and player visits. In 2019, nearly 180 clubs took part, including more than half of Premier League clubs. The weekend also highlights the work many football club community trusts do during the year to welcome refugees. Through the Football Welcomes Community Project, Amnesty works closely with Leicester City in the Community, Aston Villa Foundation, Middlesbrough FC Foundation, Club Doncaster Foundation and Liverpool County FA/Liverpool FC on creating more welcoming communities.

Saudi-backed investors pull out of Newcastle deal

July 31, 2020

Many media outlets have reported on this (here Yahoo): the Saudi-backed consortium has withdrawn its bid for Newcastle United [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/30/newcastles-takeover-bid-from-saudi-arabia-welcomed-by-many-fans-but-it-remains-sportswashing/

“With a deep appreciation for the Newcastle community and the significance of its football club, we have come to the decision to withdraw our interest in acquiring Newcastle United Football Club,” the group said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the prolonged process under the current circumstances coupled with global uncertainty has rendered the potential investment no longer commercially viable.”

The takeover bid had been condemned by Amnesty International and Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, over Saudi’s human rights record, putting pressure on the Premier League not to give it the green light in its owners’ and directors’ test.

This is a victory for human rights and decency and clear defeat for Mohamed Bin Salman and his efforts to sportswash his human rights record,” said Cengiz in a statement.

“Let this defeat send a strong message to the leadership in Saudi Arabia that they will not be able to use their money to cover up their human rights record.”

The Premier League has not yet commented.

But all in vain in the end: see: https://www.bloombergquint.com/onweb/saudi-foray-into-premier-league-delights-fans-riles-activists and https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/10/08/saudis-takeover-newcastle-fc-wake-call-rights

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/saudi-backed-investors-pull-newcastle-deal-165956341–spt.html

https://www.sportsmax.tv/index.php/football/international/item/67063-newcastle-united-takeover-collapse-down-to-other-premier-league-clubs-staveley

https://www.startribune.com/saudis-newcastle-bid-ends-after-piracy-human-rights-issues/571956372/?refresh=true

Newcastle’s takeover bid from Saudi Arabia welcomed by many fans but it remains ‘sportswashing’

January 30, 2020

On Monday 27 January 2020, Football365.com carried the story about Amnesty International calling the take-over of footbal club Newcastle by Saudi Arabia a case of ‘sportswashing’. Two days later the BBC reported on the conflicting feelings within the supporters group.

A Saudi takeover of Newcastle United would be “sportswashing, plain and simple” according to human rights body Amnesty International.The Premier League club are in talks with two potential buyers, including a consortium which features the Saudi Arabian Sovereign Wealth Fund, controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia has recently engaged on a large scale in buying a positive image with events such as Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight boxing match against Andy Ruiz, Spain’s Super Cup and the Dakar ralley.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/13/saudi-arabia-finds-that-celebrities-are-easier-to-buy-than-human-rights-ngos/ ]

Amnesty sees this as an attempt to use sport to clean up its image, describing the country’s human rights record as “abysmal”.“ It’s not for us to say who should own Newcastle, but players, back-room staff and fans alike ought to see this for what it is – sportswashing, plain and simple,” Amnesty’s UK head of campaigns Felix Jakens said.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is considering a £340million bid by the consortium, which is led by Amanda Staveley a businesswoman and financier, who failed to buy the club two years ago.

(Premier League club Sheffield United are also owned by Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. And Amnesty have also criticised Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owners for “sportswashing” their country’s “deeply tarnished image” by pouring money into the Premier League champions. See e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/07/ahmed-mansoor-ten-years-jail-for-tweeting-and-a-street-named-after-you/)

Also Khashoggi’s fiance came out against the sale: https://english.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2020/4/29/khashoggi-fiancee-slams-saudi-takeover-of-newcastle-united

Amnesty International labels Newcastle takeover bid ‘sportswashing’

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/51299845

see also: https://www.metro.news/deep-pockets-matter-more-to-fans-than-human-rights/1893025/