A MOMENTOUS DAY: Local leaders react to Newcastle United takeover
The long-awaited end of the Mike Ashley era on Tyneside arrived on Thursday afternoon, with news that the Premier League had approved Newcastle United’s takeover by a Saudi Arabian-backed consortium.
After a whirlwind 24 hours following a major breakthrough in the saga on Wednesday, when a TV piracy dispute over the broadcast of matches in Saudi Arabia was resolved, Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes hailed the “decisive new direction for the club”.
Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah took the opportunity to call for “proper regulatory oversight of football” following years of fans’ “frustration, disappointment and deception, further poisoned by the undisguised contempt of the club’s owner and the Premier League for fans’ hopes and investment in the club”.
She also addressed concerns over the record of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, whose Public Investment Fund will provide 80% of the takeover cash, which she said “stands in direct opposition to the values of our city”.
The takeover has been widely criticised by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, which have accused the gulf state of ‘sportswashing’.
The Labour MP said: “Fans do not get any say in football clubs’ ownership and I have campaigned with many of you against the actions of Mike Ashley and strongly condemned the role of the Premier League. I know that the end of the Ashley era is a day of celebration and joy for many.
“This takeover is not only about Newcastle but Saudi Arabia, whose sovereign fund provides the majority of the financing. Many of us are horrified by the human rights record of Saudi Arabia which stands in direct opposition to the values of our city.
“I understand the new owners believe this investment is a sign of change and a desire to open up on the part of Saudi Arabia and I hope that is true. I recognise the power of sport to communicate and bring people together, but as an anti-Apartheid activist for many years, I believe sport is political. Certainly, this takeover has shown that.”
Ms Onwurah added that NUFC fans “are not the ones responsible for dictating the terms by which football club takeovers are decided or for regulating the global financial system which has seen the Saudi government and royal family make extensive investments in many sectors of the economy”.
Coun Forbes said: “This is a momentous day in the history of the club and our city. I know that fans will be delighted by this news and are excited to welcome a decisive new direction for the club.
“Football is such a vital part of Newcastle’s identity and St James Park is, for many, the literal and metaphorical beating heart of the city. The prospect of successes on the pitch once more gives us all something to hope for.
“Newcastle United is our city’s biggest nationally and internationally recognised brand. As such, I look forward to speaking to the new owners to see what further opportunities for our city today’s announcement will bring.”
The city council faced criticism from human rights organisation Amnesty International last year, after chief executive Pat Ritchie wrote to the Premier League following the initial collapse of the deal and offered to “share the wider investment ambitions” that the buyers had for the city.
Confirming the deal’s completion on Thursday, the Premier League said it “has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club”.
Written by Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter
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