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Saudi Newcastle takeover: Premier League urged to adopt Fifa human rights policy

Human Rights Watch and FairSquare say delayed bid for football club shows league's inadequacies when vetting potential owners
Newcastle United lost to Tottenham on 15 July, as the club awaits a decision on a proposed Saudi-led takeover (AFP)

The English Premier League (EPL) has been urged by rights groups to adopt a comprehensive human rights policy, including while considering the sale of Newcastle United to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. 

Human Rights Watch and FairSquare Projects on Tuesday told the EPL and the English Football Association to put in place a framework in line with global football governing body Fifa’s human rights policy, adopted in 2017.

“The Premier League shouldn’t leave Fifa’s human rights policy to one side and ignore Saudi human rights abuses as it considers the sale of one of its clubs to the country’s sovereign wealth fund,” Benjamin Ward, UK director at Human Rights Watch said. 

“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.”

In June 2017, Fifa published a policy which mandated those bidding to host events such as the World Cup to outline and address human rights risks. 

The EPL has been considering a £300m takeover bid by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, which is chaired by the kingdom's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for over three months. 

“The drawn-out saga of the Newcastle takeover bid has exposed the inadequacies of the Premier League’s current arrangements for assessing and managing human rights risks,” James Lynch, a founding director of FairSquare said.

“A rigorous policy, drafted in good faith and with full institutional support for implementation, would go a long way to protecting the league in future.”

'The drawn-out saga of the Newcastle takeover bid has exposed the inadequacies of the Premier League’s current arrangements for assessing and managing human rights risks'

- James Lynch, FairSquare

The proposed buyout has been criticised by rights advocates, who accuse Saudi Arabia of attempting to “sportswash” abuses. 

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, wrote an emotional plea to Newcastle United fans in May, urging them to “slam shut the door on this offensive deal”.

Earlier this month, the UK government imposed sanctions on 19 Saudi nationals suspected of murdering Khashoggi, including the crown prince's former top aide Saud al-Qahtani. 

Qahtani was also found by the World Trade Organisation to have promoted a pirate network which illegally streamed content from Qatari-owned sports network beIN Media Group. BeIN Sports has exclusive rights to air major football events in the Middle East, including the EPL, Uefa Champions League and the World Cup.

Last week, Saudi Arabia permanently cancelled the licence of beIN Sports, which means that if the takeover deal goes through, Saudis  in the kingdom will not be able to legally watch Newcastle’s matches.