Barney Ronay is right that “English football has reached a particular kind of extreme” by agreeing to the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United (Newcastle’s Saudi takeover will cause faux morality of football to collapse, 7 October). The Premier League, in its consideration of the Saudi purchase, has reportedly seen basic human rights and TV piracy with a bizarre equivalence. However, once the piracy issue was resolved, the deal was given the go-ahead.
Most ordinary people have higher moral standards than the rich and powerful. Normally the rich are very good at navigating this dilemma and don’t rub their immorality too much in the faces of the rest of us. But the Premier League has got this one wrong. Amnesty has already condemned the takeover. By allowing the arrival of Mohammed bin Salman into football’s “billionaire boys’ club”, the football authorities have drawn much attention to the amoral ownership model of some of England’s biggest clubs. They may soon regret it.
Newcastle United fans reacted in the same way as any other fans would have reacted if there was to be a sudden injection of money into their club that would transform their fortunes. Fans only object to the moral failings of club owners when things are going badly on the football pitch, as has been shown at Manchester City, Chelsea and a number of other clubs. What happened at Newcastle United was also a celebration of Mike Ashley’s regime coming to an end after 14 years of mediocrity and mismanagement, and what these 14 years have shown is how little power the fans have when it comes to the running and ownership of their clubs.
Newcastle United’s sale to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) marks a new low in football’s corruption by money. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives in Turkey in 2018 raises awkward questions for the Premier League. As David Conn notes (Saudi takeover of Newcastle leaves human rights to fog on the Tyne, 8 October): “The CIA concluded in November 2018, according to authoritative US reporting, that [Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince] ordered the murder; he has denied it. The same crown prince is chairman of the PIF.”
Despite this, the Premier League has essentially judged Bin Salman to be a “fit and proper person” to own Newcastle. Given Khashoggi’s murder, having watched Match of the Day religiously since I was 11, I believe that to now watch Match of the Day, Sky Sports or BT’s coverage of the Premier League would be tantamount to endorsing snuff movies. I have nothing against Newcastle; I would feel the same if my club, Celtic, was in the same position. Money has rotted the game I love to the core. That’s why I’m turning my back on football today.
A match should be arranged forthwith in Saudi Arabia between the national side and Newcastle United. The Toon Army will travel, of course, some sustained by their favourite tipple, and wearing shirts emblazoned with the logo of a gambling organisation. This will do instant wonders for intercultural appreciation, but I’m left musing on just how much experience the religious police have of stewarding English supporters on tour? Howay the lads!
Dr Chris Haughton