Saudi Arabia-led consortium completes Newcastle takeover

Published October 8, 2021
General view of the Bobby Robson Statue outside Newcastle United's St James' Park stadium, Newcastle, Britain, October 7. — Reuters
General view of the Bobby Robson Statue outside Newcastle United's St James' Park stadium, Newcastle, Britain, October 7. — Reuters

LONDON: English Premier League club Newcastle United was sold to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund on Thursday after a protracted takeover and legal fight involving concerns about piracy and rights abuses in the kingdom.

The 300-million-pound ($409 million) takeover by the Saudi Public Investment Fund initially collapsed last year over concerns about how much control the kingdoms leadership would have in the running of Newcastle.

PIF has had to offer assurances to the Premier League that its chairman, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and in turn the state will not have any control of the running of Newcastle.

A rapid sequence of events reignited the deal after Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports, a Premier League rights holder, said on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia would lift a ban on it and also shut down illegal streaming services, removing a major obstacle behind the collapsed takeover.

“We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football,” PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan said. “We thank the Newcastle fans for their tremendously loyal support over the years and we are excited to work together with them.”

The PIF will be the majority partner alongside wealthy British-based Reuben brothers and financier Amanda Staveley.

The Premier League said the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect following the completion of its owners and directors test.

“The legal disputes concerned which entities would own and/or have the ability to control the club following the takeover,” the Premier League said in statement. “All parties have agreed the settlement is necessary to end the long uncertainty for fans over the clubs ownership. The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.”

The takeover ends the 14-year ownership by British retail tycoon Mike Ashley, who has been widely viewed as a figure of scorn in the one-club city, whose St James Park stadium is affectionately dubbed the cathedral on the hill.

Hundreds of Newcastle’s so-called Toon Army supporters, who have protested against Ashley’s running of the club, gathered outside the stadium in the drizzle throughout the day, buoyed by news of the imminent takeover.

While they were celebrating, others said it was another example of Saudi Arabia “sportswashing”.

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2021

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