Newcastle United: Fans welcoming Saudis 'a sickness' MP says

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Newcastle fans celebrated the club's new era before Sunday's home match with Spurs

Newcastle United fans welcoming the Saudi-led takeover of the club shows the "sickness at the heart of football", according to an MP.

The Magpies were sold to a consortium on 7 October, leading to wild celebrations on Tyneside.

The deal has been heavily criticised by groups such as Amnesty International.

SNP MP John Nicolson, who sits on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, said he felt for the widow of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

He said during a hearing: "I'm trying to imagine what it must be like to be Jamal Khashoggi's widow, when her husband has been chopped up and murdered.... and she sees numpties dancing around in cod-Arabic dresses outside Newcastle United. That must be heart-rending.

"It made me, as an outsider watching it, think there was nobody who could have taken over that club - no matter the level of evil of the person who took over - that would have resulted in anything other than celebration for large numbers of Newcastle supporters.

"That's a kind of sickness at the heart of football, isn't it?"

Newcastle's St James' Park stadium was the scene of widespread jubilation following the announcement of the takeover and again before Sunday's Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur.

Fans were seen waving Saudi flags and some wore mock headscarves and robes, which are traditional dress for men in the Gulf.

In response, Kick It Out, the charity which campaigns to end discrimination in football, has contacted Newcastle for more information the BBC understands.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Western agencies believe the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was arranged by Saudi officials although they deny any involvement

Newcastle are now owned by a group led by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF).

A US intelligence report published in February concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman - the chair of the PIF - had likely approved the killing or capture of Mr Khashoggi at the country's consulate in Turkey in October 2018.

However, the PIF has given "legally binding" assurances, which have been accepted by the Premier League, that the Saudi state will have no control over the club.

The Newcastle United Supporters' Trust has been contacted for comment.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Newcastle United fans gathered outside the club after the takeover was confirmed

Following the takeover, Amanda Staveley, who led the consortium and is now a Newcastle United director, told the BBC her firm PCP Capital took concerns over Saudi Arabia's human rights record "very seriously" but reiterated their partner was "not that Saudi state, it's PIF".

When asked if this was a case of "sportswashing" by Saudi Arabia, she said: "No, not at all, this is very much about the PIF's investment into a fantastic football team and we look forward to growing the club."

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