By Andrew Warshaw
May 22 – Despite fierce opposition from rival clubs, human rights organisations as well as the fiancée of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the English Premier League is reported to have approved the proposed £300 million takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, PIF, fronted by controversial Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (pictured).
After several false dawns, the top-flight club, one of the English game’s biggest sleeping giants, are reportedly on the verge of being sold to a consortium involving the Saudi group, the billionaire British-based Reuben brothers plus financier Amanda Staveley who brokered the deal.
The stunning takeover, if the reports are true, would make Newcastle one of world football’s richest clubs – if not the richest – and will be greeted by Newcastle fans who have been craving to see the back of incumbent owner and sportswear giant supremo Mike Ashley after a 13-year reign that saw the club twice relegated to the Championship.
To put the takeover into perspective, PIF are understood to have assets totalling more than £260 billion. Compare that to moneybags Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owner Sheikh Mansour who currently tops the Premier League rich list with a net worth of £23.3 billion – dwarfed by Newcastle’s prospective investment.
If the deal goes through, Newcastle, a club with a much-admired loyal and passionate fan base and an illustrious past but who have under-achieved for many years, risks overnight becoming one of those teams everyone else loves to hate given the eye-watering finances involved and widespread opposition to Saudis being the major backers.
In recent days Hatice Cengiz, fiancee of Khashoggi – former columnist for the Washington Post, murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul – wrote to the Premier League saying the crown prince should not be allowed to buy Newcastle.
At the same time a group of clubs, according to The Times newspaper, have opposed the sale, partly because of Saudi Arabia stealing broadcast rights and illegally transmitting Premier League matches via Saudi-backed pirate broadcaster beoutQ.
But English media reports quoted the Saudi state news channel Al Ekhbariya as claiming this has all fallen on deaf ears despite Saudi Arabia being guilty of “sportswashing”, a term used to describe regimes that try to improve their international reputation by investing in major teams or hosting big sporting events.
A Twitter post from Al Ekhbariya, owned by the government and run by the Ministry of Media, read: “The English Premier League gives the green light to complete the Saudi acquisition.”
The Middle East edition of business magazine Forbes has also claimed the buyout has been approved and it is being rumoured an announcement will be made on or around June 1, with PIF apparently buying 80% of Ashley’s shares.
Previously, Amnesty International warned the Premier League that it “risks becoming a patsy” and rights holder BeIN Sports flagged up Saudi Arabia’s TV rights theft as having massively damaged the industry on a global scale.
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