With just five FIFA World Cup appearances, only one of which saw advancement past the initial group rounds, it’s safe to say that Saudi Arabia is not a soccer powerhouse.
But the wealthy nation can now at least claim (some) ownership of a Premier League football team, after the British league on Thursday greenlit the controversial sale of Newcastle United F.C. to a group led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
The Crown Prince Has A New Jewel
Saudi Arabia has been seeking to purchase a Premier League team via its Public Investment Fund since at least early 2020. But talks stalled as the league questioned the involvement of the state — scrutinizing, in particular, the involvement of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who chairs the fund and has been accused of various human rights abuses.
Now, after 18 months of negotiations, the two sides have come to an agreement:
- The final price was around $415 million, The Athletic reports, with the PIF taking an 80% stake, British businesswoman Amanda Stavely 10%, and billionaire brothers David and Simon Reuben acquiring the final 10%.
- The league insists it has “legally binding assurances” that will keep the club out of Crown control, with PIF head Yasir al-Rumayyaan set to take over as Newcastle’s non-executive chairman. But critics rolled their eyes at the distinction yesterday, with Amnesty International calling it “a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football.”
Football is Life: Long-suffering fans of the basement-dwelling franchise seem less bothered by the Saudis’ scandals. Previous owner Mike Ashley’s reign saw the club sink to near-relegation levels, and a recent survey of 2,406 Newcastle supporters showed a 94% approval of the takeover.