Saudi Arabia’s Newcastle Takeover – Why Is It So Controversial?

Daniel Evans

Is there any morality at all in football? At the top, there certainly isn’t. When the Saudi Arabian state took over Newcastle from Mike Ashley earlier this year, some highlighted the issues with a human rights abusing country buying a football team. However, these objections were weak and short lived.

Even at the time the media largely ignored the dismemberment of journalists the bombing of children and the myriad of other human rights abuses perpetrated by Saudi Arabia. Sky sports and the other broadcasters switched quickly to focusing on how wonderful it would be for the city of Newcastle to have a successful football team, with cameras trained on gleeful fans and the smiling ‘friendly’ faces of the new owners. The whole thing was presented as some beautiful heart-warming moment for a hard done by set of supporters.

I must confess that the scenes at St James Park made me sick to my stomach. I had looked on in disgust, like many had, as Mike Ashley gutted and exploited a proud institution of the English game. The Sports Direct logos plastered all over one of the nation’s great stadiums and the chronic lack of ambition and responsibility from Ashley were terrible to see. This does not mean I am pleased to see yet another ‘money club’ added to the ever-growing list. Manchester City and Chelsea have already bought their way to the top of the Premier League, and I see nothing positive in yet another club supercharging its rise to the top with billions of pounds in blood money.

Britain is undoubtedly complicit in Saudi war crimes. The UK is Saudi Arabia’s second largest arms dealer, so when bombs fall on the Yemen and its children starve, we hold a significant part of the responsibility. The crucial difference is that while the British state is complicit in Saudi atrocities, football should not be. Countries should not be allowed to buy football clubs, even if they pretend they are a simple investment fund. If Britain attempted to buy a football team in Africa so it could distance itself from the crimes of colonialism it would be just as wrong. Sports washing is nothing new and this is certainly not the last time we will see it, but this is perhaps the most extreme example we have seen to date. The premier league has once again proven itself to be utterly amoral and totally unwilling to safeguard what limited ethical standards remain in English football. In 10 years, we will likely be stuck in a cycle like League 1 in France where an oil club has secured an artificial level of success with it taking a small miracle to unseat them.

There is also the issue of LGBTQ+ representation. How can we expect players to feel comfortable in showing who they truly are if there is any tolerance for owners who would rather execute them than accept them? The benefit of young people having positive role models from all backgrounds cannot be understated and the takeover goes further towards ignoring the role that football can have in providing this. It is all well and good wearing rainbow armbands, but if the captains of clubs owned by Qatar and Saudi Arabia wear them the gesture is hollow.

No matter how I look at this, there is no truly positive angle I can find. Yes, there will be significant investment into the club and its infrastructure, and it is more than likely that there will be investment into the local community in order to further skate over the amorality of the ownership. There will also most likely be success. When you go from a club barely able to stay in the Premier League to the richest on earth in a second, the ability to achieve success is almost limitless. Financial fair play has also proven itself to be effectively useless, so there is no real check on the amount Saudi Arabia can spend in the coming years. We have already seen with Manchester City and Chelsea that no one really cares about artificial success either and figures within the game even have the gall to claim that they are supportive of human rights as they fawn over each bought trophy. That Newcastle needs Saudi Arabian investment for its local community says more for the total lack of regard with which the Northeast is held by the government than anything else, so I do not see that as a reason to celebrate.

The game we all love will be irreversibly changed and not for the better. Derby County is on the edge of liquidation, Bury was run into the ground, the Allam regime at Hull continues to wreck a once proud club

It is truly a damning indictment of modern football that the only hope for success is being bought out by evil. The bodies meant to regulate the sport have shirked their duties in exchange for large bags of cash and it is the integrity of the competition that is being sacrificed. Money is a corrupting influence, especially when it is unregulated and there is clearly no desire to do anything that will redress the imbalance we currently see. The smaller clubs continue to falter, the wider pyramid is being disregarded and if things do not change, the game we all love will be irreversibly changed and not for the better. Derby County is on the edge of liquidation, Bury was run into the ground, the Allam regime at Hull continues to wreck a once proud club.

If all the money continues to be concentrated at the top the rot will set in and communities throughout the country will have the hearts torn out from them. Clubs should achieve success on the size of their fanbases and by the competency and responsibility with which they are run. Artificial injections of cash and the continuing and deliberate blindness to the amorality of prospective owners is destroying football. I do not expect change, I don’t even hope for it. The cheering crowds outside St James Park and the speed at which the mainstream media has moved on shows that people in this country have no regard for upholding moral standards and in the particular case of football fans, no regard for the wider pyramid so long as they have bought their way to the top. Redressing the balance requires some will from those in charge and the necessary will is simply not there.

Daniel Evans

Featured image used courtesy of NewcastleGateshead via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image use license here.

In article image courtesy of Newcastle Fans TV via No changes were made to this image. 

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