- What happened to Folarin at Monaco, and the fate of other young players at Arsenal
- How clubs are using a gap in the rules to allow them to ignore young players’ injuries
By Tony Attwood
I have often thought that the problem with having clubs in England run by people who are not British, or at least have not lived and worked in Britain for quite a while, is that they might not be fully familiar with the way in which the British tend to do things.
That thought continues – but reading of late about the problems facing Newcastle United’s chairman, I am starting to realise that there is a totally different issue which can be added to the scenario; that of a club owner who is not a UK citizen, being chased down by the authorities in his own country, while that country claims immunity from British laws, and simultaneously denies owning the club in the first place!
Welcome to the case of Yasir al-Rumayyan, chairman of Newcastle United, and the governor of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which bought Newcastle United, and chair of the state-owned petroleum company Saudi Aramco who is being sued for “harming, silencing and ultimately destroying” the family of Dr Saad Aljabri, the kingdom’s former intelligence chief Dr Saad Aljabri, (who has taken up residence in Canada for the last seven years).
Now of course in the UK we are used to changes of government happening, but generally speaking these happen in a fairly orderly way when a general election comes around and the ruling party gets kicked out by the electorate and the opposition is voted in.
Such niceties however don’t happen in Saudi Arabia, and as a result, it seems that Saudi Arabia may not be as stable and secure as the League and the media sometimes suggest. For example, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef himself was deposed as heir to the Saudi throne by Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2020, and he himself has been held in prison ever since.
But to return to the Chairman of Newcastle United, he is not only in charge of the club he is also the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which decided to put all that money into buying an 80% stake in Newcastle in October 2021 in the first place.
Now the Athletic has run a challenging article under the headling Are Newcastle United’s PIF owners separate from Saudi Arabia? And that is important because there can be no possible doubt at all that if it could be shown that Saudi Arabia itself is the owner of Newcastle United, then the country would fail the “fit and proper persons” test on the grounds that in Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is a crime, executions of people under the age of 18 take place, there are virtually no rights for women, and there is also the matter of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.
Indeed the Fit and Proper person’s test includes quite an important clause which in essence says that the Premier League is banned from dealing with any organisation that has engaged in conduct outside of the UK that would constitute an offence if such conduct had taken place in the UK. On that basis, the takeover of Newcastle United would be illegal if it was conducted by the state, rather than by independent individuals.
The Premier League has said that it has received assurances that Saudi Arabia does not own Newcastle United, but it won’t tell us what assurances. But as the Athletic points out, “That claim of separation appeared to be undermined by PIF itself when lawyers representing it claimed sovereign immunity in a court case involving LIV Golf… in the United States.”
Furthermore, an investigation by The Athletic revealed emails from the UK government that tied the success of the takeover to the country’s relationship to Saudi Arabia.
So why won’t the Premier League take action over the breaking of its own rules?
One problem is Manchester City, who are owned by Abu Dhabi United Group which is closely connected to the government of the United Arab Emirates of which Sheikh Mansour, is the vice president and deputy prime minister.
Also Sheffield United are controlled by Saudi Arabia’s Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, of the ruling family and the Premier League often say they have “legally binding assurances” that each club is not controlled by the country.
That argument held sway until in 2023 the Saudi government said that Yasir al-Rumayyan, who you’ll recall is the chairman of Newcastle United AND the governor of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, should be protected from giving evidence in a legal case concerning a golf series “due to sovereign immunity laws.”
It is a mess, and messes like this have a habit of exploding at some time or another. And when this one does, it is going to be pretty big. Especially for Newcastle United, Manchester City and Sheffield United.
- How far down might these points deducations take clubs?
- Big clubs that foul less lose fewer players of their own to injury
- What takes clubs up and down the league: attack or defence?
- Referee Extremism: the situation in Spain and in England
- Didn’t appreciate KO time, M1 is a disaster, but watching Arsenal is a joy