It’s been a long time coming for Newcastle United fans, but the joy of finally being rid of Mike Ashley may be overshadowed by the moral issues surrounding some of potential owners of the club.
Recent seasons have been a roller-coaster for Magpies’ fans, and they’ll be wary of rumours of yet another buyout. In October 2017, Mike Ashley announced that he wanted to sell the club he had owned for the past ten years. Last October, he took the club off the market again after failing to find a suitable buyer. However, since January, there have been ongoing negotiations that would see Ashley part ways with the club for around £300 million.
Despite labelling talks in 2018 with British businesswoman and financier, Amanda Staveley, a “complete waste of time”, Ashley is again attempting to broker a deal with her that would mean an 80% majority stake in the club will be owned by the Saudi-Arabian sovereign wealth fund. The other 20% will be split between Staveley’s private equity firm, PCP Capital Partners, and the Reuben Brothers, the British billionaire property investors. Staveley is well-known in Middle Eastern financial circles, having played a prominent role in the purchase of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour’s Abu Dhabi Group in 2008.
Who’s in favour of a takeover?
Probably, most Newcastle fans.
Supporters have repeatedly campaigned for “AshleyOut” over the last few seasons. It could be argued that the businessman has ruined United, through a lack of investment, and used the club solely as a commercial vehicle for his Sports Direct retail group. A recent statement from “AshleyOut.com”, the organisers of the anti-Ashley protests, called his performance in the last few transfer windows “a gross dereliction of duty”. It has to be said, though, that the Magpies have purchased record signings in two of the last three transfer windows.
Nevertheless, Ashley’s ownership during the coronavirus pandemic has come under heavy criticism, given that the club has already charged fans for next season’s season tickets and is one of just three Premier League clubs to furlough their non-playing staff.
Anyone not in favour of getting rid of Ashley?
Not many fans, but a number of institutions are trying to ward off the takeover.
Mike Ashley’s Saudi successors do not exactly come with clean records. In October 2018, the state-organised murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in which he was allegedly dismembered with a bone saw, drew global outrage. This is just one example of the dire human rights situation in the country, which recently imprisoned and tortured women human-rights activists who were campaigning for the right to drive.
In a statement to the Premier League, Amnesty International’s UK director, Kate Allen, warned that the takeover was an “image-building exercise”, drawing on the prestige of the competition and the passion of the Newcastle fans to gloss over the human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. With that said, the Premier League have to carry out routine checks on potential owners and directors which, if they pass, will ensure the “reputation and image of the game” is upheld.
On June 16 however, the World Trade Organisation ruled that the Saudi Arabian government has breached international law for actively supporting the pirate TV channel and illegal streaming site service, beoutQ.
This setback could complicate the takeover further, since the Premier League have already been assessing the deal for two months. Part of the test is analysing whether potential buyers have been involved in alleged criminal activity.
The Newcastle takeover is, above all, a symptom of the deeper issues in the modern game. Football clubs are no longer built on the passion of local fans and players. They are not even the playthings of rich individuals anymore, but rather the business investments of immensely wealthy states, who wish to turn them into global entertainment companies. The ethical implications of turning a blind eye to the human rights records of owners remains a concern and one that must be addressed. But this is not an isolated issue. The owners of PSG and Manchester City, both the current owners (members of the Abu Dhabi royal family) and previous owner Thaksin Shinawatra, have all been rubber stamped by footballing institutions, despite human rights violations in their home nations.
When asked for his opinion on the takeover, Newcastle University student Benjamin Carrington said: “It’s definitely a mixed situation. Newcastle are a big club, looking at the history, the stadium and for having some of the best fans in the country”.
“They deserve more than the under-performing side(s) that Ashley has given them. There have been so many rumours that people are desperate for the takeover to happen”.
“It’s just unfortunate that the potential buyer is somehow even more unethical than Mike Ashley”.
Nevertheless, Newcastle fans can hardly be blamed for rejoicing at seeing the back of Mike Ashley in the North East, and looking forward to the promised investment in both the club and city.
Featured image sources: NUFC logo via David Dixon on Geograph. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman via U.S Department of State on Flickr.
Last modified: 18th June 2020