Premier League boss denies Saudi state is running Newcastle
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has defended the decision to allow a Saudi-backed consortium to take over Newcastle United, saying he was “satisfied” that the Saudi state would not be running the club.
A protracted takeover saga surrounding Newcastle finally came to a close in October when a £305 million ($405 million) deal was competed to end the 14-year reign of unloved owner Mike Ashley.
Under the agreement, the Saudi sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF) gained an 80% stake in the club, while PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan was installed as non-executive chairman.
The Premier League immediately came under fire for sanctioning the deal, being accused of giving the green light to Saudi ‘sportswashing’ and allowing in a regime with a questionable human rights record.
There were also suggestions that the Saudi state would effectively be running the club – although that is something that Masters has now vehemently denied in his first public comments since the deal went through.
“There are legally-binding assurances that the state will not be in control of the club. If we find evidence to the contrary, we can remove the consortium as owners of the club in accordance with the rules,” Masters told the BBC.
“The issue was about control, and we resolved the issue of control… We’ve been given the assurances, and there are ways of ensuring that we are comfortable and satisfied that is the case.
“There is a corporate difference between the two [the Saudi state and PIF].
“That is what we were investigating - whether the Saudi state could control the club through the investment fund. We have received assurances that is not the case.”
Asked about accusations of Saudi ‘sportswashing’ and human rights abuses, Masters said: “The takeover has gone through, we’re comfortable that all the things we do at the Premier League will be preserved under the new ownership, all of the things we do and the club does under our equality and diversity scheme will be preserved.
“You can’t have one rule for one and one rule for another, and so Newcastle United will continue to be run on the right basis…
“What I’m concerned about is the club itself is abiding by all of those key criteria, and to my satisfaction they are.”
Speaking about the PIF ultimately being headed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who stands accused of ordering the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 – Masters claimed that Saudi investment was already deeply embedded in the UK.
“PIF are also investors in many other companies in this country,” said the Premier League official.
“I think football is perhaps being targeted and talked about in a different way. I can’t choose who are the owners of football clubs, the owners’ and directors’ test doesn’t allow us to take a view on that.”
Masters add there were already “many high-bar objective tests” in the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ regulations, and that it was “difficult to believe” a government-backed regulator would have come to a different conclusion regarding the Saudi takeover.