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Newcastle United: Saudi Arabia-backed takeover of football club confirmed

Deal approved by Premier League despite rights advocates warning kingdom is attempting to 'sportswash' abuses 
Newcastle United's Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron (C) vies with Sheffield United's English defender Jayden Bogle (R) during the English Premier League football match at St James' Park in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 19 May 2021 (AFP)

The takeover of Newcastle United Football Club by a Saudi-Arabia backed consortium was confirmed by the English Premier League (EPL) on Thursday.

The deal was approved after the consortium provided assurances that the Saudi state would not have control of the club.

"Following the completion of the Premier League's Owners' and Directors' Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect," the Premier League said.

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Instead, Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is set to provide 80 percent of the money for the £300m ($407m) deal, will be seen as separate to the state, therefore passing the Premier League owners' and directors' test.

It is thought that a resolution came after Saudi Arabia settled an alleged piracy dispute with Qatar's beIN Sports, which owns the rights to broadcast Premier League matches in the Middle East.

BeIN Sports had been banned from operating in Saudi Arabia, however Riyadh Saudi that ban on Wednesday, resolving a major hurdle to the Newcastle deal. 

"The Premier League, Newcastle United Football Club and St James Holdings Limited have today settled the dispute over the takeover of the club by the consortium of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media," the league added.

"The legal disputes concerned which entities would own and/or have the ability to control the club following the takeover.

"The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club."

'Sportswashing'

Saudi Arabia has been accused of human rights abuses and the proposed buyout has been criticised by rights advocates, who accuse the kingdom of attempting to “sportswash” abuses. 

However, with the majority owner PIF now considered a separate entity, those accusations, and any piracy issues, were no longer a barrier to the takeover in the Premier League's view.

Amnesty UK chief executive, Sacha Deshmukh said earlier on Thursday that the Saudi authorities were "sportwashing their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football.

"Instead of allowing those implicated in serious human rights violations to walk into English football simply because they have deep pockets, we've urged the Premier League to change their owners' and directors' test to address human rights issues," he added.

A statement from Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of PIF who will become non-executive chairman of Newcastle United, said the deal would mean long-term investment to "harness the club's potential and build upon the club's legacy.

The takeover, fronted by PCP Capital Partners' chief executive Amanda Staveley, ends an unhappy era at St James' Park and means Newcastle will be one of the world's richest clubs.

Staveley will have a seat on Newcastle's board of directors along with Jamie Reuben of RB Sports & Media.

"This is a long-term investment," Staveley said in a statement. "Our ambition is aligned with the fans - to create a consistently successful team that's regularly competing for major trophies and generates pride across the globe."