It’s fair to say that the Saudi Arabian buyout of Newcastle United has ruffled plenty of feathers in the Premier League.
First, some 18 of the 20 clubs that make up the English top-flight voted to begin a consultation on whether owners should be allowed to sponsor their clubs, either directly or indirectly, via the other brands and companies that they own.
And now Premier League chiefs themselves have agreed to meet with human rights firm Amnesty International to draw up new amendments to the ‘fit and proper persons’ test that prospective directors and owners must pass.
In the wake of Newcastle’s takeover deal, financed by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International chief Sacha Deshmukh wrote to Premier League head honcho Richard Masters to seek clarity on the acquisition – particularly given the Middle Eastern country’s somewhat questionable record on human rights matters.
Deshmukh described the Premier League’s rules for judging prospective owners as ‘woefully inadequate’, and called the Newcastle takeover as an ‘extremely bitter blow for human rights defenders.’
“The current rules concerning who owns and runs English football clubs are woefully inadequate, with no bar on ownership for those complicit in acts of torture, slavery, human trafficking or even war crimes,” he said.
“Under Mohammed bin Salman’s leadership, government critics and human rights defenders have been jailed, civilian deaths from Saudi bombing in Yemen have mounted inexorably, and the grotesque killing of Jamal Khashoggi has been subject to a whitewash.”
Masters has claimed that he has received assurances that no senior-level figure in the Saudi aristocracy will be getting involved in the running of the Magpies – despite the Crown Prince, bin Salman, heading the wealth fund from his position as chairman.
The Premier League chief has agreed to meet with Deshmukh and his advisors, and that could bring about a change in how potential club owners are judged in the future.
Who is a Fit and Proper Person?
In its handbook, the Premier League has documented in full the various tests that an individual must pass in order to be described as ‘fit and proper’ to buy and run a football club.
At their core, these requirements focus on perceived wrongdoing – so those convicted of a criminal offence on their prohibited list are barred from completing a takeover, as are those that have received a prior ban from a sporting governing body and those have breached certain rules regarding match fixing, fraud and so on.
There is some interesting wording in the testing criteria, which you can see published here. Rule F.1.8 states that a person would be barred from club ownership or directorship where ‘….in the reasonable opinion of the Board, he/she has engaged in conduct outside the United Kingdom that would constitute an offence of the sort described in Rules F.1.7.2 or F.1.7.3.’
Rule F.1.7.2, for context, states that an individual who has engaged in ‘any act which could reasonably be considered to be dishonest’ can also be prohibited from ownership. Would we agree that the Saudi aristocracy have acted in a ‘dishonest’ manner in the past?