LONDON: More Premier League clubs are growing uneasy about the controversial attempt of the Saudi Arabian investment fund to buy Newcastle United from sportswear salesman Mike Ashley.
Newcastle fans, angered over the past 13 years by Ashley’s reluctant spending and muddled managerial appointments, are heavily in favour of the club’s sale. The deal has been brokered by Amanda Staveley, a businesswoman who has been trying to find a buyer for the past four years.
The Premier League, as a successful exercise in free-market capitalism, has rules governing ownership but these relate to potential owners not carrying any criminal convictions. The rules do not cover the sort of complaints of human rights abuse which have been levelled against the Saudi regime.
A 350-page submission justifying the purchase has been submitted by Staveley, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) to the Premier League. However the deal has been sitting on the table since mid-April and the longer the delay the more likely the deal will fall through.
A group of clubs, according to The Times, have submitted documentation of their own opposing the sale because of links between the Saudi government and the locally-based beoutQ satellite channel which has been pirating Premier League broadcasts in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.
The official rights contract is held by beIN Media of Qatar and the Gulf state is involved in a long-running economic and political row with a Saudi-led coalition. The critical clubs do not want to antagonise the Qataris at such a difficult time.
Complaints to the Saudi government by FIFA, UEFA and mainstream European leagues – such as the Bundesliga and the Premier League – have been ignored and no law firms in Saudi Arabia dare act on the football authorities’ behalf.
Ashley bought Newcastle for £134m in 2007 and has waited for at least five years for a potential buyer who would match his £300m valuation of the club. Aside from the TV issue, the Saudi interest has been opposed by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International.