Speaking to TRT World, Hatice Cengiz said the UK government should not allow MBS to exploit premier sporting events to polish his damaged reputation.
Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, urged the English Premier League to intervene and stop the takeover of Newcastle United Football Club on April 24. Cengiz accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of “strategically using international sports to repair his badly-damaged reputation”.
Earlier this month it was revealed that a consortium backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has reached a £300m deal to take over the struggling Newcastle United Football Club. The Saudi Public Investment Fund was founded for the purpose of investing funds on behalf of the Government of Saudi Arabia and it is fully controlled by the de-facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman. With Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses and the Khashoggi murder, human rights groups say Mohammed bin Salman’s ownership of the English football club looks like a 'sportswashing strategy' to portray a modern state that is open to Western-influenced sports and entertainment, unlike before.
Speaking to TRT World, Cengiz said: "All independent investigations about Jamal's murder point the finger at Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, yet he has not faced accountability.
"It is wrong and immoral for UK authorities and the Premier League to allow Bin Salman to use their football clubs to polish his very damaged reputation."
On April 20, Amnesty International wrote to Richard Masters, the chief executive of the Premier League, urging him to veto the 80 percent Saudi-funded purchase of Newcastle. In response, Masters said: “These matters are often subject to media speculations but at their heart are due processes required by UK law and by the Premier League's own rules, which can't be conducted in public and on which we can't comment. However, I can assure you that these processes go beyond those required by UK company Law and they are applied with equal rigour to every single prospective purchase of a Premier League club."
A shift to big-ticket sports
A second human rights group, Fair/Square Projects, also expressed its opposition to the deal stating that “there is a compelling body of evidence that any consortium linked to the Saudi Arabian government should be disqualified from ownership of any Premier League club”.
One of the league’s major broadcast partners, Qatar-based beIN Sports also intervened and said Saudi Arabia should be held to account for its involvement in a pirate network which illegally broadcasts Premier League matches. Saudi Arabian pirate station BeoutQ has been streaming sporting events illegally since 2017 despite Saudi state satellite operator Arabsat being called repeatedly to stop providing a platform for a pirate network they said was "abusing" sport.
This shift in Saudi Arabia’s interest in sports dates back to November 2016 when Crown Prince bin Salman ordered the kingdom’s General Sports Authority to set up a Sports Development Fund to support sport activities in the country. The objectives of the fund were listed as privatising football clubs to increase participation, promoting new sports events, and adding 40,000 jobs to the economic marketplace.
As the Guardian highlights, this move raises important questions about the kingdom’s sudden interest in sports and possibility of its government to use it as a soft power tactic to distract attention from the kingdom’s ongoing human rights abuses and the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen. The war has dramatically worsened Yemen's humanitarian situation, which has now been classed as a humanitarian disaster or humanitarian catastrophe, with some even labelling it as a genocide.
Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom are close allies with longstanding military and trade relations co-operating in areas of security and counter-terrorism for decades. Without an unexpected shift in UK foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia, it is very unlikely the takeover will be rejected. Latest reports say that the Saudi-led £300m takeover of Newcastle could be completed within the next fortnight.