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Newcastle fans call for Premier League to be investigated over failed Saudi takeover

Tens of thousands sign petition calling for probe into Premier League's handling of takeover process
The English Premier League had been considering a bid for Newcastle United by a consortium led by the Saudi's PIF.
The English Premier League had been considering a bid for Newcastle United by a consortium led by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (AFP)

More than 60,000 Newcastle United supporters and football fans from other clubs have signed a petition calling on the UK government to launch a probe into the Premier League's takeover process, after the sale of the club to Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) fell through last week.

The petition, which has gained nearly 63,000 signatures in four days, calls on the government to launch an independent investigation into the footballing body, as well as its chief executive, Richard Masters.

Club legends Faustino Asprilla, Rob Lee and Robbie Elliott are among those who have backed the petition, after the PIF withdrew its offer, citing the league's "prolonged process", which meant the bid was "no longer commercially viable" during the coronavirus pandemic.

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"After recent events leading to the unsuccessful takeover attempt of Newcastle United, this petition aims to engage the United Kingdom (UK) government in establishing an independent investigation into the English Premier League (EPL) takeover process and Richard Masters who was fundamental in orchestrating the deal," the petition, posted on Change.org, reads.

Since April, the Premier League had been considering a bid by a consortium led by the kingdom's PIF, which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

But the proposed takeover collapsed on Thursday, when the PIF, billionaire brothers David and Simon Reuben, and Amanda Staveley of PCP Capital Partners said they had withdrawn their interest after three months of waiting for the Premier League's approval.

The process was long in part because of concerns expressed against Saudi Arabia's human rights record and the strategic attempt to use the owning of the football club as a "sportswashing" attempt to clean up its international image.

Opposed from the beginning

The already complex deal had become even more complicated when a damning report by the World Trade Organisation found that prominent Saudi nationals promoted beoutQ, an illegal piracy network that streamed content from Qatar's beIN Sports.

The petition asks for a probe into how and why confidential aspects of the takeover were leaked in recent months and the influence of people interested in seeing the bid fail due to pre-existing issues with the kingdom.

"Despite the takeover being a confidential process, much of it was played out in the public domain and by the end of the Newcastle United takeover saga, it was apparent that the dispute was only with the Saudi backing due to their apparent human rights and piracy abuses," the petition reads.

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"However, many of the concerns were initially raised by outside influences who would directly benefit from this particular takeover attempt failing or who already have personal issues with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)."

The deal was opposed from the outset by several human rights organisations and advocates, including Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who pleaded with Newcastle fans to "slam shut the door on this offensive deal". 

Khashoggi was killed and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a team of operatives accused by the UN and CIA of acting under the direction of the crown prince.

Human Rights Watch and FairSquare Projects told the Premier League and the English Football Association last month to put in place a framework in line with global football governing body Fifa's human rights policy, adopted in 2017.

"Adopting a comprehensive human rights policy and including human rights as a criterion for evaluating potential buyers of football clubs would set a positive example," Benjamin Ward, UK director of Human Rights Watch said.