Editor’s Column: The Premier League has committed a horrible hypocrisy, but don’t go too easy on fans who celebrate Saudi Arabia’s Newcastle takeover either

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Police have decided a banner held up by Crystal Palace fans during the weekend draw v Newcastle United doesn’t warrant criminal charges – obviously.

A member of the public had complained after a group of Palace supporters brought attention to the various human rights violations committed by Saudi Arabia – who have effectively just bought Newcastle…

Technically, the Geordies have been purchased by PIF, but The Public Investment Fund is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia; headed up by Mohammad bin Salman – the country’s Crown Prince. The CIA officially concluded Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, by the way. There are countless other atrocities I could mention but you’d have assumed the murder of a reporter would be enough for an individual or their organisation to fail the ‘Fit and Proper Persons Test’ needed to own an English club.

There is no separation between PIF and the Saudi State. Saudi Arabia have bought a Premier League club and will use it to expand their own interest and wash their sullied global reputation. 

The fact this entirely factual banner was the subject of a complaint reminds me of when footballers targeted by racial abuse are punished for walking off the pitch. It’s laughable and entirely misdirects attention, but thankfully the police have at least recognised this.

By deciding to sanction the recent Newcastle purchase, the Premier League has committed a monstrous hypocrisy and we shouldn’t stop talking about it. You’ll notice the hype surrounding the sale has died down. Column inches regarding it are already diminishing – which is why I’ve decided to write this piece – in an attempt to stop anybody who reads it from simply shrugging their shoulders and stating, ‘Yeah, the world’s fucked up, but what can we do about it?’.

Good question, but keep asking it.

The football world ended the European Super League in 48 hours last season after it reared its ugly head, but most fans have taken this latest attack on the game sitting down.

So, who to blame? Initially, the Premier League, although everyone can do better. The PL has promoted its rainbow laces campaign with pride and dignity, but is throwing it all away. How can they welcome a regime where homosexuality leads to imprisonment or public lashings – alongside direct calls for greater equality for the LGBTQ community?

At the same time as attempting to boost the women’s game, the PL has embraced a country where women are effectively second class citizens.

One of the biggest flaws when discussing this topic is the mind-numbing whataboutery used to counter it.

‘What about Manchester City’s owners? Nobody speaks about them anymore!’

Well, we absolutely should. That’s the whole point. Maybe if we were louder at the beginning, then another state with appalling human rights records wouldn’t have waltzed into the PL with such apparent ease.

‘Nobody’s owners are perfect – they’re all as bad as each other!’ 

Finding an ethically-sourced vegan-billionaire born in the same postcode as a club’s stadium is tough… but there’s levels, right? Yes, it’s bad that some Liverpool scouts once used their passwords from a previous job at Manchester City to check a stats database. Yes, it’s bad that JW Henry, our owner, tried to furlough club staff during the pandemic. Yes, it’s even worse that Mike Ashley bled Newcastle dry during his tenure – but it’s not as bad as the effective owner of a football club ordering the murder of a journalist.

We are allowed to think more than one thing at one time is problematic. And guess what – we can even rank these bad things and put more weight on the bigger issues while still caring about the lesser ones.

We can’t just not talk about stuff because the world is already so troubled. Is it depressing? Sometimes – but there’s lots of good and we can talk about that – too. Liverpool beat Manchester United 5-0 on Sunday and I howled with laughter throughout – I loved it. Good and bad coexist – and the lines are often blurry and confusing – but the Saudi takeover is obviously bad news for the game and if you refuse to acknowledge that you’re putting your head in the sand.

The Newcastle fans who have raided the kitchen and gone to games with tea-towels on their heads to imitate the traditional keffiyeh headdress have embarrassed themselves. The argument that football fans shouldn’t be expected to be up to date on socio-political issues is patronising. You can read Amnesty’s report on Saudi Arabia’s current human rights status in less than 15 minutes. It takes Google search.

The first paragraph reads as such:

‘Repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly intensified. Among those harassed, arbitrarily detained, prosecuted and/or jailed were government critics, women’s rights activists, human rights defenders, relatives of activists, journalists, members of the Shi’a minority and online critics of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtually all known Saudi Arabian human rights defenders inside the country were detained or imprisoned at the end of the year. Grossly unfair trials continued before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) and other courts. Courts resorted extensively to the death penalty and people were executed for a wide range of crimes. Migrant workers were even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because of the pandemic, and thousands were arbitrarily detained in dire conditions, leading to an unknown number of deaths.’

I don’t even mind Newcastle fans enjoying their potentially great footballing side, so long as they and everyone else understands where it comes from. Effectively, they can have their cake and eat it – but right now there is a misguided view that an analysis of Saudi practices is an analysis of Newcastle United. It isn’t! This is an opportunity to talk about it – to make change. Don’t take it personally or halt the discussion. How could a football fan possibly take offence to a nation-state being called out for its laws on homosexuality? How stupid is that?!

The Saudis want to weaponise football in their image, so by publicising their crimes at a match, the Crystal Palace fans have weaponised football to increase attention on Human Rights. That’s good, right?

Ultimately, by talking about it – maybe it’ll help introduce change in the region – which is the best we can hope for from this grim transaction. So don’t fight the discussion – let it be loud and at every game.. and perhaps a nation who wants to wash its image worldwide will see the change they’ll have to action in order for this to happen.


  1. How can a team who collectively tried to ruin the PL with their ESL plans complain about another team’s owners bringing the league into disrepute?

    The hypocrisy is overwhelming. For instance, did you notice the advertisements for the SA grand prix at the recent Brighton Man city game?

    Let’s be honest. Nobody would be decrying human rights or LGBTQ rights if the Saudi’s were worth only 2 billion.

    Stop hiding behind faux outrage and tell it how it is. You don’t want more competition,.

  2. And ‘whataboutery’ seems to be the only tool you have to deflect from the obvious. If you haven’t complained in the past, then why are you doing so now?
    Is it because you have recently discovered some morals that you previously didn’t have or could it be because you are worried about the competition.

    If the Saudi’s had bought your lot there would have been many many happy supporters amongst the minority of dissenters.

    It’s pure jealousy, end of.

  3. Very well written article, however I would say that what has to be done now is to use the power of the football family to highlight and bring pressure on these regimes via the unparalleled exposure of the Premier league worldwide to place a spotlight on the practices of these countries, whether they be Chinese, Russian, or any other country where human rights issues take place and I include the UK and USA in this! Global finance is what drives the world, the pif impacts on every aspect of our lives and I doubt many refuse to fly in a Boeing jet or watch a Disney movie or take a carnival cruise on moral standpoints these are all major pif investments, newcastle united is now another part of the portfolio, but this has to be a good thing as it is going to highlight and put pressure on this regime to change in a way non of its other investments will.

  4. Finding an ethically-sourced vegan-billionaire born in the same postcode as a club’s stadium is tough… but there’s levels, right? Yes, it’s bad that some Liverpool scouts once used their passwords from a previous job at Manchester City to check a stats database. Yes, it’s bad that JW Henry, our owner, tried to furlough club staff during the pandemic. Yes, it’s even worse that Mike Ashley bled Newcastle dry during his tenure – but it’s not as bad as the effective owner of a football club ordering the murder of a journalist.

    So, you get to pick and choose which morals suit you?
    Either they are all morally perfect or they are not. Football has links to all sorts of dodgy money and regimes. This is the world we live in, it’s called Capitalism, where money talks louder than any moral compass.

  5. And, speaking of hypocrisy. One of Palace’s owners is linked to a company that has over £20b worth of investment from the Saudi’s.
    The list can go on and it will.

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…

  6. Very amused by any criticism of PIF by Liverpool fans. Liverpool football club are sponsored by a company that has recently done a deal with the Saudis and I understand that they have also been previously prosecuted and heavily fined for money laundering to Iran. PIF buying Newcastle appears not to be the only “grim transaction” does it, eh wot!

  7. Furthermore,
    Qatar (with an equally dubious human rights record) has paid close to $500m for rights to screen PL matches, which is shared out amongst the clubs. Has any club refused to accept this money? Has any club refused to send their players to the forthcoming world cup in Qatar?
    Of course they haven’t.
    The pathetic ‘journalism’ you provide is neither well-informed nor free from bias.
    Stop pretending to be something you are not and admit to the real reasons behind the waffle that you post.

  8. You forgot about the blood money all of the 20 PL clubs – yes, including your beloved Liverpool – have/are taking from beIN sports as a major tv partner of the PL without any form of recourse, who are owned by Qatar with arguably as bad a human rights record as the Saudis, so I look forward to you lobbying your own club to hand back the billions its taken in tv revenue over the years then!

  9. Stop pretending you give a flying fu*k about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. As you said yourself you looked it up. This is not some cause you actually care about it’s just the fear, of a fan a recently good again football club, of competition and finding a way to justify why you suddenly have to say the take over is bad.

  10. You didn’t mention all of the hypocrisy surrounding the World Cup in Qatar. The FA, Southgate, Beckham, pundits like Lineker and Rio Ferdinand, all turn a blind eye to the slavery and related deaths. They will be watching, and often profiting from this awful situation. Awarding the World Cup to Qatar is the ultimate in sportswashing. Everything you rightly condemn in Saudi Arabia is happening in Qatar, I look forward to your article highlighting this.

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