The group had long lobbied English football chiefs to reject the takeover due to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
Amnesty International has condemned the English Premier League’s test to assess the suitability of owners and directors as unfit for purpose as a Saudi Arabia-led consortium completed its takeover of struggling Newcastle United amid concerns about Saudi human rights abuses.
The human rights group has lobbied English football chiefs for more than a year to reject the takeover, warning it is part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to “sportswash” its human rights record.
“Shame. Shame on Newcastle United,” Amnesty Secretary General Agnes Callamard tweeted after the takeover was announced on Thursday.
The controversial deal received the green light from the Premier League after the apparent settling of a piracy dispute over television rights in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports.
Under the 300-million-pound ($408m) deal, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) will reportedly take an 80 percent stake in the club, with other investors buying the remaining 20 percent.
“Today’s decision shows that English football is open for business when it comes to sportswashing,” Amnesty’s head of campaigns in the UK, Felix Jakens, told the AFP news agency.
“Ever since this deal was first talked about, Amnesty have said it represents a very clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record using the glamour of the Premier League.”
The owners’ and directors’ test bars those with unspent criminal convictions taking charge of clubs and is used as a mechanism to ensure they have the funds to back a takeover.
But Jakens said the test has “gaps in it so wide you could drive a bus through them”.
Amnesty has called on the Premier League to amend the regulations, which make no mention of human rights.
The takeover consortium convinced the Premier League that the Saudi state is separate from the PIF, something that Amnesty called into question.
“Given the beneficial ownership goes all the way to (Saudi Crown Prince) Mohammed bin Salman, it seems a very strange distinction to be making,” added Jakens.
“We’ve been clear throughout. This deal is about Saudi ownership of Newcastle one way or another as an opportunity to talk positively about the country and deflect negative attention that rightly comes their way over their human rights record.”
Amnesty has repeatedly raised concerns about the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after US intelligence services said they believe the slaying came at the crown prince’s orders. The kingdom has denied the claims.
Despite the criticism by rights campaigners, Newcastle United fans have been rejoicing at the prospect of seeing their fortunes transformed on the pitch.
The Magpies have not won a major trophy since 1969 and sit second bottom of the Premier League, without a win in their opening seven games of the new season.
“We’ve always been clear this is nothing to do with Newcastle or the Newcastle fans,” said Jakens.
“They are going to be overjoyed that new backing is coming to their club and potentially bringing trophies back to the northeast.
“We would say those fans should make themselves as aware as they can of who their owners are and what the human rights situation in Saudi is.”
A poll undertaken by the Newcastle United Supporters Trust suggested 93.8 percent of the club’s fans were in favour of the takeover.
Several football authors and writers also took to social media to express their displeasure.
“A sad moment for football, and another new low,” journalist and writer Miguel Delaney wrote on Twitter.
Activists and researcher Hatice Cengiz, the widow of Khashoggi, said she hoped fans and players of Newcastle United hold their owners to account.
“Ask them why no one knows where Jamal’s body is yet?” she wrote on Twitter.
I hope the fans and players of @NUFC will hold their owners to account and ask them why no one knows where Jamal’s body is yet? Why has there been no Justice for Jamal? This is such a shame. #Newcastletakeover #JamalKhashoggi #justiceforjamal pic.twitter.com/JrO3K030H4
— Hatice Cengiz / خديجة (@mercan_resifi) October 7, 2021