Covid-19 crisis an opportunity for Saudi Arabia's Newcastle project, Latest Football News - The New Paper

Covid-19 crisis an opportunity for Saudi Arabia's Newcastle project

A Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle United appears to be nearing completion at a time when the rest of the football industry is on its knees due to the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

For Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), led by Crown Prince Mohammed Salman, the crisis presents a commercial opportunity and a chance to break into the lucrative English Premier League.

But the potential £300 million (S$529m) deal, which will reportedly see the Saudi fund take an 80 per cent stake in the club, is facing fierce opposition from human rights groups and one of Saudi's regional rivals.

Critics have accused Saudi Arabia of "sports washing", saying the government uses sport as a way of distracting attention from its human rights record.

Global rights group Amnesty International wrote to EPL chief executive Richard Masters on Tuesday, warning the competition "risks becoming a patsy" unless it takes a serious look at the rights issue.


The Newcastle bid comes just months after five people were sentenced to death over the 2018 murder in Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who had been critical of the Saudi regime.

But resistance to the deal may come down to a monetary rather than moral judgment.

Qatar-owned broadcaster, beIN Sports, has written to all 20 EPL clubs warning the "future economic model of football" is at stake if the Saudi takeover is allowed to go through.

Prior to a takeover by the Abu Dhabi Group in 2008, Manchester City had not won a major trophy since 1976. They have now won 11 in the past nine years, including four EPL titles.

The investment required to raise City's status from mid-table mediocrity to title contenders resulted in losses of £584m in the first six years of the Abu Dhabi reign.

By buying in at a time when most other clubs are strapped for cash, the PIF could transform Newcastle's fortunes on the field more quickly and at a much lower cost.

"The vultures will pick off good players for very modest fees," said football finance expert Kieran Maguire. - AFP