Newcastle United: Saudi Arabian takeover could leave fans 'conflicted'

St James' Park
Amnesty International says Saudi Arabia has an "appalling" human rights record

A potential £340m Saudi takeover at Newcastle United could leave fans "conflicted", according to True Faith fanzine deputy editor Norman Riley.

Talks between the Arab state's Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley are "advanced" but could still collapse.

Despite criticism of Saudi Arabia's human rights record, some fans have said Ashley "should accept the offer".

But Riley said any deal would lead to "a lot of soul searching".

A poll in the Newcastle Chronicle suggested that 80% of fans would back the bid, which is led by businesswoman and financier Amanda Staveley, who failed to buy the club two years ago.

And a statement from a collection of Newcastle fans groups said: "Ashley should not stand in the way of this once in a lifetime opportunity for our club, our communities and our proud city."

But Amnesty International said Saudi Arabia's latest venture into sports investment was a latest example of "sportswashing" its human rights record, which includes the heavyweight rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr in December.

Mike Ashley
Mike Ashley (left) bought Newcastle for £134.4m in 2007

'There is a desperation to get rid of Mike Ashley'

Amnesty said Saudi Arabia had "an appalling record on LGBT rights, women's rights, extra-judicial killings, beheadings, the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi, and their involvement in the ongoing conflict in Yemen".

Riley, who is also a member of the 9,000-strong Newcastle United Supporters Trust, told BBC Sport: "On a personal level, I'm very conflicted by the idea of the club being owned by a country which has committed and commits human-rights abuses.

"A lot of Saudi government policy, I find abhorrent, so if the deal goes through I will have to re-assess my relationship with the club, absolutely no doubt about it.

"I wouldn't take the poll as a reflection of how people feel. I think there will be a lot of people feeling conflicted. A lot of people will still support the club, I will still support the club, but the level of support might be the difficult part.

"If it goes through, I think there will be a lot of soul searching. In general, people care about human rights. There is a desperation to get rid of Mike Ashley, it's just how far people are willing to go in that desperation."

'Club connections can override personal and political beliefs'

Any deal for Newcastle would require approval by the Premier League, but would be controversial.

Premier League club Sheffield United are owned by Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who took full control from Kevin McCabe last year.

And Amnesty have also criticised Manchester City's Abu Dhabi owners for also "sportswashing" their country's "deeply tarnished image" by pouring money into the Premier League champions.

It said the country "relies on exploited migrant labour and locks up peaceful critics and human rights defenders".

But Riley said that the strength of fans' feelings towards their clubs can often override political beliefs.

He added: "The Saudis could regenerate certain parts of the region and ultimately as football fans we want to win trophies and that motivation can override our personal and political beliefs.

"Would I judge someone who supported Newcastle after the Saudis bought the club? Absolutely not, but I would have difficulty with it.

"Clubs are desperate and there is so much money to be made. I feel uncomfortable on many levels as a fan, but at the same time to make that disconnect to a sport I loved for years and years is hard."