News ID: 107504
Publish Date : 07 October 2022 - 22:11

RIYADH (Middle East Eye) – Twelve months ago, a Saudi-led takeover made Newcastle United the world’s richest football club overnight.
It sparked jubilant scenes - but not every fan was celebrating.
“I thought ‘Please no!’ I was happy to see Mike Ashley go, but I wasn’t in favor of a state - a dictatorship - taking over,” John Hird, an English teacher from Felling, a small town five miles from Newcastle, told Middle East Eye.
Ashley, a British retail billionaire, was accused of a lack of interest and investment during his 14-year ownership of the club.
“He took any ambition out of Newcastle, took the life out of the club. You take life out of the city as well if you do that,” says Daniel, a 32-year-old lifelong fan currently based in Leeds.
“There were a lot of ethical reasons to dislike Ashley as well,” he adds, pointing to poor working conditions at Ashley’s Sports Direct retail chain.
“But when the Saudi state owns 80 percent of your club it’s just a whole different category of problem.”
On 7 October last year, a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) - which manages over $600bn in assets - completed a buyout of the northeast England club.
The PIF is chaired by de-facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and six of its eight other board members are Saudi government ministers.
The newfound riches propelled Newcastle United from relegation-threatened strugglers to a team rapidly rising up the Premier League table, with ambitions to qualify for European football.
Since the takeover, the club have held a training camp in the Saudi city of Jeddah, and released a kit in the same colors as the kingdom’s flag.
The close association with the Saudi state, accused of a wide range of human rights abuses, has made a section of the supporters uneasy.
Now, critical fans are becoming increasingly vocal and getting organized.
“Some of the things the Saudi state is doing are heinous. Ethically indefensible,” says Daniel, pointing at abuses against people and human rights defenders.
“As Newcastle fans, we should use the ownership of the club to turn the spotlight on things in Saudi Arabia they don’t want to be seen. Make the ‘sportswashing’ ineffective.”
On that basis, Daniel set up a Twitter account, NUFC Against Sportswashing, to publicly counter what he saw as an attempt by the Saudi government to use Newcastle United to launder its international reputation.
Hird found Daniel on social media, and other dissenting voices began to emerge and make contact with each other virtually.

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