In reports as recent as January 28, it is said that crown prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman might be the next big benefactor of the Premier League. According to a report by The Guardian, a shell company has been registered to allow a potential £340m takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund as sources close to the deal claim they are now ‘90% certain’ it will go through. But what does this deal mean for English or World Football?
While the takeover of clubs has been welcomed across different prominent leagues, this particular takeover will be a test of the integrity of the world’s most competitive league if the atrocities committed by the Saudi prince are taken into account. To begin with are the human rights violations in Yemen where at least 10,000 people are reported to have been killed in the Yemen war with thousands more dying from famine and millions of people have been displaced.
Popularly known as MBS, he is known not only for imprisoning Human rights activists but also their executions, which has been on a rise since he forcefully took the reins. According to Al Jazeera, the dictator has worked on several societal reforms in Saudi Arabia, while during the same period, the number of executions in the kingdom has steeply increased.
"Mohammed bin Salman has overseen the execution of 16 people on average per month, every month, since his appointment. In the eight months after he was appointed crown prince, 133 people were executed," Reprieve reported in 2017. Amnesty International has also condemned Saudi Arabia's prominent use of the death penalty, adding the country uses the punishment as a way of stifling criticism from a Shia minority in the country.
Although most of these atrocities have never been directly attributed to him, the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was what brought the crown prince’s actions to the forefront. A prominent critic of the Saudi crown prince, Jamal Khashoggi entered Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 but was not documented to have come out of the consulate. After 18 days of denial, Saudi Arabia admitted the journalist was killed, allegedly in a fist fight with Saudi officials inside the consulate.
From the very start of his disappearance, Turkish authorities said Khashoggi was killed immediately after entering the mission by a Saudi state hit-squad. Saudi officials, however, kept insisting Khashoggi left the building shortly after he entered. As international pressure increased on Saudi Arabia, prosecutors finally released a statement on October 20, saying: "Discussions that took place between him [Khashoggi] and the persons who met him during his attendance in the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul led to a quarrel and a brawl with the citizen /Jamal Khashoggi, resulted in his death".
Initially the Saudi government denied the death, but following shifting explanations for Khashoggi's death, Saudi Arabia's attorney general eventually stated that the murder was premeditated. By 16 November 2018, the CIA concluded that MBS had ordered Khashoggi's assassination.
Such dictators getting involved in the beautiful game can see a shift in the power dynamic of the game. While Sheikh Mansour was also criticized for his family’s involvement in the Yemen war, it was much after the Manchester City takeover. Meanwhile Roman Abramovic’s connection with Vladimir Putin have put him under the radar as well. However, Mohammed Bin Salman’s actions are at par with the atrocities committed by many dictators of the past with less than half the repercussions. Bin Salman has been reported saying that he can do what he pleases and that “Only death can stop me from ruling.”
Football has always been a sport propagating peace, be it racism, homosexuality or war. The involvement of controversial personalities such as Mohammed Bin Salman will be a crucial test of both Newcastle and the Premier League’s integrity. The club might rise back to the glory days of the 90s with the newly found money, but their trophies will nonetheless be blood money, making them null and void in the face of a peace-loving football fan.
Feature image courtesy: AFP/ Lindsey Parnaby