Amnesty International Highlights Concerns over Saudi Sportswashing

Amnesty International Highlights Concerns over Saudi Sportswashing

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Reports that Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman lobbied British Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the Newcastle takeover "illustrate that this was more than just a commercial transaction within the football world", Amnesty International has said.

The Daily Mail reported the prince had privately urged Johnson to reconsider the "wrong conclusion" reached by the Premier League over the £300m deal, and that Johnson then asked one of his top aides to investigate the matter.

Amnesty International has long seen the takeover as an attempt by the Saudi state to "sportswash" its reputation after a long history of alleged human rights abuses.

The human rights group's UK director Kate Allen said, "The bid to buy Newcastle was a blatant example of Saudi sportswashing, so it's worrying that the prime minister would accede in any way to pressure from the crown prince over the deal.

"Reports that Mohammed Bin Salman made threats about possible damage to UK-Saudi relations if the deal didn't go ahead only illustrates that this was always more than just a commercial transaction within the football world."

Allen added, "At the time that the crown prince was putting this pressure on No 10, the world was still reeling from the fall-out over Jamal Khashoggi's murder, Saudi human rights activists like Loujain al-Hathloul were languishing in jail, and Saudi warplanes were indiscriminately bombing Yemen.

"This whole tangled affair only underlines how there needs to be a proper overhaul of the Premier League's owners' and directors' test to provide proper human rights scrutiny of who is trying to buy into the glamour and prestige of English football."

A UK Government spokesman said the sale had been a "commercial matter" and that the Government was not involved at any point in the takeover talks.

The report comes after Johnson this week ordered a review into the collapse of the financial firm Greensill Capital amid concern over former prime minister David Cameron's lobbying on its behalf.

"We expect the English Premier League to reconsider and correct its wrong conclusion," the prince is said to have warned the Prime Minister.

In a message to his private office, Johnson said: "One for Sir Edward" - a reference to Lord Udny-Lister, who had not been ennobled at the time.

Lord Udny-Lister reportedly told the Prime Minister, "I'm on the case. I will investigate."

Lord Udny-Lister told the Mail, "The Saudis were getting upset. We were not lobbying for them to buy it or not to buy it. We wanted (the Premier League) to be straightforward and say 'yes' or 'no', don't leave (the Saudis) dangling."

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