Is Saudi Arabia trying to polish its image by seeking to buy Newcastle?

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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is seeking to buy Newcastle Football Club, which may allow the Gulf country to appear in a prominent role in the English Premier League. But this process has drawn criticism among human rights defenders and some of the kingdom’s opponents in the Middle East.

When Newcastle United last won the English League title in 1927, Saudi Arabia was not yet established. Since that date, the North East Club of England has continued to strive to return to the summit Premier LeagueHe finished second on two occasions, in 1996 and 1997, behind Manchester United, when the historical scorer of the prestigious championship, Alan Shearer, was playing for Newcastle.

After that, the team was unable to surpass the third place it scored in 2003 alone, and it went through difficult stages that saw it fall to the second degree more than once. “The fans have been suffering for a long time because the team has not won any title in decades,” said Miguel Delaney, the sports division official for the British Independent.

The team returned to the Premier League in 2017 but is suffering in the 2019-2020 season, as it ranks thirteenth among twenty teams after 29 stages before the championship was stopped due to the Corona virus. However, the team remains able to remain in the limelight if the coalition led by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, sponsored by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, can purchase the club.

According to the British press, club owner Mike Ashley has received in advance a non-refundable amount of twenty million euros, in an offer to purchase 80 percent of the team’s shares, with a total value if approved 345 million euros. The matter is now subject to approval by the Premier League administration of the deal, at a time when the tournament is experiencing financial difficulties caused by the Covid-19 epidemic. The arrival of a new investor at the tournament could be a good development for the tournament economically. But the league’s management must also study the file to assess its compliance with other conditions that are not related to the financial split.

According to Amnesty International, the offer does not meet these conditions, and the human rights organization has sent a message to the Premier of the Premier League explaining what the tournament could face in defaming its image because of this deal. “As long as these (human rights issues in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) issues are not resolved, the Premier League displays its illustrious and illustrious image of recruitment by those seeking to cover up unethical practices,” wrote Kate Allan, director of the organization.

Last January, this non-governmental organization described Saudi Arabia’s human rights record as “catastrophic”, and several human rights organizations accused Riyadh of trying to use oil money to polish its stained image after the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Istanbul in October / October 2018.

Sports is a way to polish the image

Qatar, too, has sent a message to the heads and managers of the English championship clubs urging them to open an investigation to see if those responsible for the Saudi investment coalition are the “right people” to manage Newcastle. For more than 15 years, this small Gulf emirate neighboring Saudi Arabia has made sport an essential part of its diplomacy, and its sports investments have also suffered from the consequences of the ongoing Gulf crisis since Saudi Arabia and a number of its allies cut their ties with Qatar in June 2017.

This message shows the growing rivalry in the sports field between Riyadh and Doha. The two countries are investing heavily in this sector in an effort to diversify their economies, which are largely based on the oil market, and to improve their international image. While Qatar made investments in teams, most notably Paris Saint-Germain The French, and the organization of major sporting events such as the 2022 World Cup, Saudi Arabia has been very active in this field in recent months, which is clearly demonstrated by its organization of the Spanish Super Cup final in January 2020, and in hosting the Dakar Rally.

Having a team that plays in the English Premier League may represent an important victory for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, simulating what was done by Prince Abdullah bin Mosaed bin Abdulaziz, who after a long court battle became the owner of the largest share in the Sheffield United club, which offers a good season.

In addition to these investments, Riyadh is changing part of its policies and laws that attract widespread criticism from human rights organizations, in relation to freedoms, women’s rights, and human rights. The last of these steps was the Kingdom’s decision on Sunday to halt executions of people convicted of crimes committed while they were minors, and to announce on Saturday that it would abolish the punishment of flogging.

Several Saudi businessmen aspire to follow in the footsteps of the Emirati Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, owner of the club Manchester City English Football Association since 2008, which since then has won the English Premier League four times, apart from several championships of the English Professional League League Cup and the FA Football Cup.

And it is logical that part of Newcastle United fans aspires for this deal to lead their team to a similar fate, but journalist Miguel Delaney says that the club’s supporters are divided about it, “They know the criticisms directed against Saudi Arabia. Bin Salman, or the Saudi flag, through their accounts on social networks, “as they only want one thing, is that their team occupies an advanced position on the English and European football scene, as is the case of other teams in the old continent that have benefited greatly from the investments of countries Gulf.

Olivier Barra / Fouad Hassan