Newcastle United to play in ‘sportswashing’ Saudi Arabia

A series of decisions made by the English football club’s Saudi owners since their takeover last year has led to rising allegations of “sports laundering”.

A consortium led by Saudi Arabia took over Newcastle United last October [Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty]

English Premier League club Newcastle United are set to play and train in Saudi Arabia this December, which will do little to quash allegations that the club are being used to settle Riyadh’s recent controversies.

According to a Newcastle United statement released on Friday, the top flight club will travel to Riyadh between December 4 and 10 for warm-weather training and a friendly with Saudi Pro-League champions Al-Hilal.

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The visit coincides with a break in Premier League play ahead of the World Cup in Qatar, which begins next month.

“We look forward to taking on Al-Hilal and playing in front of our growing fan base in the region,” team manager Eddie Howe was quoted as saying in the statement.

A consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) – a sovereign wealth fund – completed a protracted takeover of Newcastle United last October.

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The deal was marred by much controversy, including whether the purchase, managed by a state wealth fund, would result in the club being controlled by Saudi Arabia itself.

The Gulf state has been accused of buying sports teams to “wash sport” and whitewash a poor human rights image, most recently tarnished by the assassination of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi involvement in the war in Yemen.

The Premier League, which had to agree to the acquisition, said when the deal was finalized that it had “received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club”.

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However, critics say the release of a new kit strikingly similar to that of the Saudi national football team and a visit by the team to Jeddah earlier this year clearly show that the Saudi state is using the club to try and improve on that image of the country.

The British government has denied being involved in the takeover deal but has dropped an investigation The guard It emerged last month that a British minister said he would be speaking to Saudi officials “at the highest level” to facilitate the process.


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