It was Premier League club Newcastle United’s first match of a new era. St. James’ Park was packed to capacity with expectant fans and the sound of jubilant chants filled the air on the Tyneside on Sunday, October 17th.
Following the club’s controversial takeover by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund [PIF], the mood of the Northern English city has been nothing but celebratory and the atmosphere at that particular match was close to delirious.
The black-and-white colors of the club could be seen in every stand, on shirts and adorning flags, while a giant banner was held up to spell out some of the words from a famous song about the River Tyne that Newcastle proudly sits upon:
“This is a mighty town built upon a solid ground and everything they’ve tried so hard to kill — we will rebuild,” the flag read.
The banner alludes to the supposed ‘killing’ of Newcastle United, a perceived death many fans of the club have spent the past 14 years grieving over following the acquisition of the club by UK retail boss Mike Ashley — who has long been accused of disinterest in Newcastle, of not bothering to invest in the club and of draining the soul out of the Magpies. Ashley’s counterpoint would be he wanted Newcastle to live within its means.
Yet amidst the feverish celebrations that took place at St. James’ Park that day, there was one discordant note: a van drove a “Justice for Jamal Khashoggi” poster around the stadium, a reference to the actual killing of a Saudi journalist and dissident that took place in 2018.
The PIF — which has an 80% stake in the club, as part of a three-party consortium — is a sovereign wealth fund chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the man who a US intelligence report named responsible for approving the operation that led to the murder of Khashoggi.
Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd, 2018, to pick up a document required in order to marry his fiancée — but once he entered the building, he never left.
US intelligence has since concluded that the Crown Prince himself approved the operation that ended in the killing of the journalist.
In response to the conclusion drawn by US intelligence, the Saudi Foreign Ministry released a statement saying the country “completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.”
It also added that Khashoggi’s killing was an “abhorrent crime and a flagrant violation of the kingdom’s laws and values.”
Before the takeover, Amnesty International UK urged the Premier League to reconsider the decision and, since then, it has demanded that the League changes its owners’ and directors’ test to “address human rights issues.”
Amnesty International chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said: “Instead of allowing those implicated in serious human rights violations to walk into English football simply because they have deep pockets, we’ve urged the Premier League to change their owners’ and directors’ test to address human rights issues.”
And while the Premier League has said it has received “legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United,” there is no denying that the nation’s Crown Prince oversees the PIF.
AWN reached out to the PIF for a statement for this story but its representatives declined to comment.
In a press release issued when the takeover was first announced, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the PIF, said: “We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football. We thank the Newcastle fans for their tremendously loyal support over the years and we are excited to work together with them.”
When the news was officially announced, Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of the late Khashoggi, took to Twitter to call the takeover a “shame and embarrassment” for Newcastle United and said that she hoped the fans and players would “hold their owners to account.”
AWN has reached out to the Premier League and PCP Capital Partners — who make up part of the consortium that have taken over the club — for comment but did not receive a response.
In the press release issued with the announcement of the deal, Amanda Staveley, CEO of PCP Capital Partners, said: “This is a long-term investment. We are excited about the future prospects for Newcastle United.
“We intend to instill a united philosophy across the club, establish a clear purpose, and help provide leadership that will allow Newcastle United to go on to big achievements over the long term.”
Since the announcement of the takeover, the Premier League has agreed to meet with Amnesty for talks on revising the owners’ and directors’ test currently applied to any individual named as having a key role in controlling a club in the league.