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Newcastle Takeover Exposes ‘Massive Hypocrisy’ On Anti-Discrimination Policies, Says Fair Square

Newcastle United’s takeover by Saudi Arabian owners has exposed the “massive hypocrisy” with regard to its anti-discrimination policies, says human rights organisation Fair Square.

The club is now 80% owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), which the Premier League and the new owners say is separate from the state.

But several organisations have questioned that stance given the chair of PIF Mohammed bin Salman is also the ruling leader of the country.

After an allegation of a racist gesture at Newcastle’s game against Tottenham, for which a fan has now been arrested, the club said that “discrimination has absolutely no place in football or in wider society and we will not tolerate it under any circumstances.”

However, director of Fair Square Nicholas McGeehan told BBC Sport there was no difference between the PIF and the Saudi state “where there is systematic discrimination against women, Shia Muslims, LGBTQ people and migrant workers.”

He added: “Saudi Arabia is probably one of the countries in the world that has some of the most discriminatory laws and practices against minority groups.

“So it’s a massive hypocrisy and just exposes this tension between a club which tries to promote positive values, and its ownership by a state, which is deeply repressive, and to whom those values are anathema.

“It’s an issue that supporters of the club and people within it are going to have to grapple with, and they’re constantly going to be asked about it, too.”

After taking over the club three weeks ago, part-owner Amanda Staveley said the new ownership will respect existing Premier League anti-discrimination campaigns and seek to boost its women’s football team.

Football’s anti-discrimination body Kick It Out declined to comment.

Newcastle United have also been contacted for a response.

‘To consider this a cultural exchange is naive’

Questions still remain about what many consider to be the Premier League’s most controversial takeover, not least the league’s claim that it had received “legally binding assurances” that the Saudi state would not control the club.

Human rights groups also said the deal is an attempt to improve the country’s image by ‘sportswashing’ its record on human rights abuses, the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and its part in the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

Some of the issues were highlighted in a banner displayed by a Crystal Palace fans’ group before the club’s game against Newcastle on Saturday, which police decided caused no offence.

The club also reversed its guidance on fans wearing “traditional Arabic clothing or Middle East-inspired head coverings” at matches, now saying they could wear it if they wanted to, before adding: “We are inclusive to all.”

That move was welcomed by former Football Association race equality board chair Yunus Lunat, who told BBC Sport that the wearing of the clothing was “a positive embracement of Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern culture – for once.”

After the takeover was announced, LGBTQ group United with Pride “acknowledged that Saudi Arabia as a country is one of the least tolerant for LGBTQ+ and gender rights” but said “there is potential to be a positive influence to improving the conditions for the LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.”

But McGeehan said: “This isn’t about the United Kingdom influencing Saudi culture, this is about a Saudi government, a ruthless government, a ruling elite, attempting to use a football club, to gloss over the fact of these appalling human rights abuses and of the repression of the people who do promote these values.

“To frame it as some sort of cultural exchange is naive.

“There have been numerous actors who have attempted to exert some sort of positive influence on Saudi Arabia for a long time, notably within the kingdom, and Saudi Arabia has successfully resisted all of those.

“The concern I think Newcastle fans should have is that Mohammed bin Salman is unlikely anytime soon to relax his attacks on civil society which lead to all sorts of horrendous accusations.

“More issues are going to arise and a lot of people will seek to attach those to the club.”

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