The English Premier League (EPL) has been reminded to consider Saudi Arabia’s human rights record while evaluating a takeover bid of football club Newcastle United by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund.
In a report released on Tuesday by Human Rights Watch, the rights organisation and FairSquare Projects said: “The Premier League and the Football Association should consider adopting a comprehensive human rights policy in line with the policy put in place by FIFA [football’s world governing body].”
The Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund has for months been trying to buy Premier League club Newcastle United.
It is understood that the $370m takeover would involve Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), taking an 80 percent stake.
“The Premier League shouldn’t leave FIFA’s human rights policy to one side and ignore Saudi human rights abuses as it considers the sale of one of its clubs to the country’s sovereign wealth fund,” said Benjamin Ward, United Kingdom director at Human Rights Watch.
“Adopting a comprehensive human rights policy and including human rights as a criterion for evaluating potential buyers of football clubs would set a positive example.”
Last month, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters suggested the proposed takeover had become complicated but hoped to have a conclusion to the process shortly.
The Premier League’s board has been carrying out an examination of the proposed takeover as part of its “owners and directors test” which evaluates the suitability of ownership groups.
Saudi Arabia has faced unprecedented scrutiny over its human rights abuses since MBS became crown prince in June 2017.
The scrutiny has intensified since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul.
Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said in her 100-page report released last month that Khashoggi’s killing constituted a premeditated extrajudicial killing for which Saudi Arabia’s leadership was responsible.
Callamard said the investigation failed to examine who may have ordered the killing, adding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed and other senior officials should be investigated over the murder.
Last month, a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel told Saudi Arabia it had breached global rules on intellectual property rights by failing to prosecute a pirate broadcaster of sports and movies in a dispute with Gulf neighbour Qatar regarding the BeoutQ channel, which broadcast Premier League games.
In its judgement, the WTO ruled that Saudi government officials and entities, including Saud Al-Qahtani, an aide to the Saudi crown prince, publicly promoted BeoutQ, including with governmental tweets.
Following the verdict, Saudi Arabia said it permanently cancelled beIN’s licence in the country.
It had been barred from broadcasting in the kingdom since mid-2017 over political disputes with Qatar.
Saudi’s General Authority for Competition (GAC) said in a statement that it was also fining beIN Sports 10 million riyals ($2.67m) for practices “that restrict competition”.