Jamie Redknapp defends Newcastle’s new Saudi-led takeover despite human rights concerns

Jamie Redknapp has told football to ‘be very careful’ about challenging Newcastle’s new Saudi Arabia owners due to the UK’s relations with the Gulf nation before stating that football fans do not care who runs their club.

Newcastle will celebrate their first match after a Saudi-led consortium completed a £305million takeover of the club earlier this month when Tottenham visit what is likely to be a raucous St James’ Park on Sunday afternoon. 

The deal, which sees Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) own 80 per cent of the club with fellow stakeholder Amanda Staveley as a director has been deemed controversial due to Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record, particularly those to LGBTQ+ rights.

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Sky Sports pundit Redknapp recognised those concerns but claimed that most football fans do not care who owns their club and that supporters have ‘short memories’ as time goes on.  

‘I understand the human rights problems, it stares you in the face,’ Redknapp told Sky Sports on Sunday. ‘But we have to be very careful not to be too hypocritical, because as a country, we have a lot of deals with the Saudis.

Jamie Redknapp has told football to ‘be very careful’ about criticising Newcastle’s new owners

Newcastle fans will celebrate the first match after the £305m Saudi-led takeover was completed on Sunday against Tottenham

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‘We run very close to the bone by doing that, so to say to a club that you then can’t have investors just doesn’t sit correctly with me. (Newcastle fans) will be well aware, but the truth is, I’m not sure football fans, the majority, really care who owns their club.

‘I think if we’re going to go into the business dealings of a lot of the Premier League owners, we might not even have a league. You have to be very careful. Newcastle fans, right now, they’re so excited, they are beyond excited. Of course time will pass, we’ve all got short memories in football.

‘There will soon be another story. But right now the (new) Newcastle owners are delighting this city.’

As well as Staveley, PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan will act as the non-executive chairman of the Magpies, alongside the Reuben brothers who also have a stake in the club. 

Redknapp claims that most football fans actually do not care who runs their club nowadays

PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan (above) will act as the non-executive chairman of the Magpies

Saudi Arabia’s influence on the sporting world has been growing in the past few years, after it watched neighbours Qatar win the hosting rights for next year’s World Cup. 

Critics have, however, repeatedly accused the Saudis of ‘sportswashing’ – spending huge money on hosting sporting events in a bid to boost the country’s reputation despite its poor record on human rights. 

Before the Newcastle takeover bid was sealed earlier this month, Saudi Arabia has spent at least $1.5bn on high-profile international sporting events, according to report from human rights organisation Grant Liberty.

Saudi Arabia have a history of poor human rights which has clouded this takeover deal

That includes hosting Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight boxing world title rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr in December 2019 as well as a European Tour golf tournament featuring many of the game’s biggest names – the Saudi International – and the Dakar Rally. 

The Saudis also hosted a Formula One grand prix this year for the first time earlier this year. 

The Premier League initially failed to approve the Newcastle takeover bid due to concerns over the links between the fund and the Saudi state, which had the deal gone through would effectively have meant that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the owner of the club. 

The buying consortium insisted that the PIF was separate from the state and, as revealed by Sportsmail, Bin Salman was so enraged that he warned the Prime Minister on June 27 last year that Anglo-Saudi relations would be damaged unless the buyout was approved.

A ‘Justice for Jamal Khashoggi’ banner was seen outside Newcastle’s first game under new ownership against Spurs on Sunday

Bin Salman approved and probably ordered the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, according to a US intelligence report earlier this year. A ‘Justice for Khashoggi’ banner was seen outside St James’ Park ahead of Sunday’s clash with Spurs. 

However, the takeover bid went through after the Gulf state settled its piracy dispute with Premier League broadcast partner beIN Sports, while the Premier League also received assurances that Saudi Arabia would not be controlling Newcastle. 

Despite the accusations regarding Saudi Arabia’s ‘sportswashing’ phenomenon, former Newcastle midfielder Kieron Dyer claimed that football is being unfairly focused on compared to other sports that the Gulf nation are involved in. 

Ex-Newcastle midfielder Kieron Dyer (middle) claims football is being unfairly treated in the Saudi Arabia ‘sportswashing’ debate

‘I would say though footballers, or football clubs, they always get the brunt of most criticism,’ Dyer told Sky Sports.

‘Anthony Joshua goes to fight in Saudi Arabia, the super fight between Joshua and Tyson Fury was probably going to head over to Saudi Arabia.

‘There’s PGA Tour events in the Gulf, there’s a Grand Prix. They don’t get the outrage that football brings.

‘That’s just my own concerns. Yes, like you said, hearing the stories (about Saudi Arabia), there should be some outrage. But I wish everyone had the same passion for every sport, rather than just football.’

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