Amnesty welcomes Newcastle United 'sportswashing' takeover collapse

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The Saudi-led takeover of the Premier League club broke down on Thursday, and the human rights charity believes this is good news

Amnesty International has suggested the collapse of Newcastle United's Saudi-backed takeover will be seen as a "sign" that human rights defenders have not been completely disregarded.

A proposed £300 million ($390m) purchase of the Premier League club, backed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) whose chairman is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had been ongoing for several months.

The prospective new owners pulled out of a deal on Thursday, owing largely to the protracted nature of negotiations, which combined with the coronavirus pandemic had made the investment "no longer commercially viable".

There had been strong opposition to the deal from human rights campaigners concerned about Saudi Arabia's welfare practices.

Matters were complicated further when the World Trade Organization (WTO) published a report that found representatives of the kingdom facilitated the breach of piracy laws through broadcasting network beoutQ, who were accused of illegally showing Premier League football and other sport.

Amnesty International, the world's leading human rights organisation, was among the most vocal critics when the deal first came to light, saying in April that the takeover was an attempt to "sportswash" – using sports or a club as a PR tool to divert attention from areas of concern, or improve a country's image.

Following Thursday's collapse, the organisation is hoping human rights defenders take heart.

"This deal was always a blatant attempt by the government of Saudi Arabia to try to sportswash its abysmal human rights record by buying into the passion, prestige and pride of Tyneside football," Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK's economics affairs programme director, said.

"The fact that this sportswashing bid has failed will be seen by human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia as a sign that their suffering has not been entirely overlooked.

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"Numerous peaceful Saudi human rights activists are currently behind bars, and of course a Saudi journalist was grotesquely murdered by agents of the Saudi state less than two years ago.

"Looking ahead, there needs to be a rule change to ensure the Premier League's Owners' and Directors' test provides proper scrutiny of the human rights records of those trying to buy into English football, not least when the buyers are governments or government representatives.

"We'll be watching developments at St James' Park with interest and meanwhile we wish Newcastle United and its fans well."

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