It’s been one of the most talked about takeovers in sports history, but finally, the consortium consisting of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF), PCP Capital Partners and the Rueben Brothers has gained control of the English Premier League club Newcastle United.
The majority of the club’s long-suffering supporters, many of whom had wanted to oust former owner Mike Ashley for some time, have been celebrating the arrival of PIF. Furthermore, the nation’s betting public have hit the bookies with a string of wagers on Newcastle winning the Premier League within the next five years, according to data received from https://gamblerspro.com.
However, not everyone is in approval of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman being involved in the beautiful game, in what is arguably the world’s most prestigious domestic league. The term ‘sportswashing’ has been thrown around with Saudi Arabia’s human rights record being brought into the spotlight, and of course, the disgraceful murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which we should add, the royal family of Saudi Arabia denied any involvement in.
So, is this merely a public relations stunt to change public perception? Is there an alternative reason for these mega-rich middle-easterners being in Newcastle? Or, do they simply love football so much that they want to try their hand at owning an elite club?
What is PIF?
The Public Investment Fund (PIF) is basically a gigantic savings account for the Saudi government. It’s estimated that its assets total more than $500 billion, which makes it one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds.
PIF was established in 1971 for the purpose of investing. It’s no secret that Saudi Arabia generates most of its income from oil; however, natural resources don’t last forever, and also with the climate crisis, countries are now looking for greener alternatives to oil.
Therefore, PIF is laying the foundations for Saudi Arabia to find new methods of making money for future generations. The Public Investment Fund has previously invested in companies such as Facebook, Starbucks, Disney and Uber, so its reach is already far and wide.
beIN is Back in Saudi Arabia
Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been at each other’s throats for some time now, and this is one of the factors as to why this takeover took so long. The Qatari state-owned media company beIN is the current holder of the broadcasting rights for the Premier League in the MENA region. However, the Saudi Arabian government banned beIN in 2017, whilst not acting on an illegal streaming service in its country that was effectively stealing beIN’s broadcasts.
In April 2020, the CEO of beIN wrote to the Premier League bosses and all Premier League clubs, demanding that the PIF-led takeover of Newcastle United be blocked. He insisted that the government of Saudi Arabia would end up being a shadow director of the club, which would reflect a poor image on the league.
Saudi Arabia retorted that PIF is a separate entity to the country’s government. It also closed down the illegal streaming site that had cost beIN millions in lost revenue. Fast forward to October 2021, and Saudi Arabia announced that the beIN ban had been lifted, and this signalled the green light for the completion of the much drawn-out takeover.
What is Sportswashing? And, is this a classic example?
To quote Wikipedia, “Sportswashing is the practice of an individual, group, corporation, or nation-state using a major or prestigious international sport to improve its reputation, through hosting a sporting event, the purchase or sponsorship of sporting teams, or by participation in the sport itself.”
Amnesty International has been vocal in its condemnation of this takeover. It points to Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women in its society, the use of the death penalty, and its firm anti-LGBT stance as examples of the country’s poor human rights record. Already, the Chief Executive of Amnesty has called for a meeting with the Premier League to discuss changes to the Owners’ and Directors’ test, with clauses for human rights abuses to be included.
However, the Premier League has been satisfied with assurances that the KSA government will not be involved in the running of NUFC. Based on the evidence, it looks to us like sportswashing at its finest. Yet, this isn’t the first case; Manchester City are owned by Sheikh Mansour - a powerful businessman from the United Arab Emirates. Many saw this deal in the same way.
While we can’t brush everything under the carpet, this is a very exciting takeover for Newcastle United and the Premier League as a whole. Fans all over the world are waiting to see what happens to Steve Bruce - who is widely expected to be booted out sooner rather than later - and also the January transfer window will be telling. Will the Saudis look to buy the league by sucking up the world’s best players? What kind of transfer fees will they be paying to lure the best talents to play in the northeast of England? For now, we just have to wait and see what unfolds.