Pressuring the Saudis for Newcastle is fashionable in this government

There is evidence that the government put pressure on the Premier League to approve the acquisition of Newcastle, which is certainly on the mark.

As newly improved financially Newcastle United prepare to start their first summer full of oil money – the football equivalent of entering cheat codes for infinite lives in a video game – some interesting details have begun to emerge about the British government involvement in getting the contentious takeover bid approved by the Premier League in the first place.

A guardian’s report has stated that investment minister Lord Gerry Grimstone made “great efforts to facilitate the deal” from June 2020. The deal had stalled amid concerns about Saudi piracy of the Premier League and other television rights sports cars that had been legitimately purchased by Qatar broadcaster BeIN. The Premier League finally approved the takeover in October 2021, stating that it had “received legally binding assurances” (they did not confirm what these assurances were, let alone what laws those concerned might be bound by) that the Saudi state would not be involved in the performance of Newcastle United.

In response to the question of how the league would know if Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who is also chairman of the Public Investment Fund, was giving orders to the club’s directors, chief executive Richard Masters replied: “In that case, no. I think we would know. [But] I don’t think it’s going to happen.” In short, the Premier League’s decision-making process on this seems to be cloaked in confidentiality clauses. predictably, Newcastle’s own calls because the end of this culture of secrecy was over as soon as they got what they wanted.

That this particular government has been lobbying on behalf of Saudi Arabia should not come as much of a surprise. Ethics seem to be near the bottom of their list of priorities, and at times they have seemed almost desperate to invite Saudi Arabia to invest in this country. But the government is said to have been involved in this despite public claims by Boris Johnson that the government had not been involved at all.

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, an urgent question was asked in parliament about the news that the Saudi government had executed 81 people in one day and how this affected them as proper owners of a football club in this country. Unsurprisingly, government minister Amanda Milling didn’t actually answer the question: “The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund is a major investor that has poured billions into the UK and other Western markets. It operates in a variety of sectors. We welcome the purchase of Newcastle United, a sign that the UK remains a great place to invest.”

Newcastle Central Labor MP Chi Onwurah went on to say: “In utterly condemning this appalling and horrific massacre, I speak for many, many of my constituents and Newcastle United fans. While football fans have no control or influence over the ownership of their beloved clubs, and especially in a Premier League awash in dirty money, the UK government does have control and influence over who it trades with and associates with. Will you tell us what you are going to do with that control and influence? Are you going to make it absolutely clear that sportswashing is not an option?

Milling responded: “Regarding Newcastle United, we have never had a role at any point in the potential acquisition of the club, and this has been a business matter for the Premier League.”

Onwurah, for her part, was previously quite involved in the campaign to ‘Greater transparency’ of the rejection of the takeover bid for the Premier League, which had been largely coordinated by the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, who were very much in favor of the takeover being approved. She certainly didn’t seem particularly concerned that the owners of her constituency’s football club might be involved in something akin to a “heinous and horrific massacre”. And frankly, five months after permission was granted it might have been a little late to ask if a government minister was “going to make it absolutely clear that sports carwashing is not an option”. Two months earlier, Newcastle had spent more than any other club in Europe in the January transfer window. The sports wash had already started. Milling did not bother to answer this question either.

Should we be surprised if the government is lying about this? Considering everything we’ve seen in the 18 months since they took power, probably not. It has long since reached the stage where this government seemed to become pathological about lying. As a minister, lying to parliament should be a matter of resignation, but we also know that this no longer seems to apply. Lord Grimstone is understood to have approached then-Premier League chairman Gary Hoffman and went so far as to offer to broker a solution between the league and Saudi authorities over the league’s BeIN hacking concerns.

The claim that the Premier League makes its own decisions, with the inference that the government was strictly neutral about it, is also generally false. It may not have been part of the final decision, but it’s evidently clear that Grimstone was leaning heavily on the Premier League to get this through. Considering that the league itself is ultimately a body made up of its member clubs and that many of them were vociferously opposed to this happening, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to conclude that the league may have been influenced by Grimstone, even if you honestly believe they were not. The fact that it was subsequently passed after all this pressure hardly suggests that they could do it, and the lack of clarity on how this decision was reached only adds to the sense that there may have been much more to all of this than meets the eye. .

The current government clearly sees football as a vote winner, even in these divided times. In fact, it becomes less surprising that Johnson should have sent Rangers a good luck message ahead of their Europa League final against Eintracht Frankfurt, when we consider that Rangers are probably the most divisive club in British football and that the Johnson’s government only seems to prosper by creating further division. Such is the miasma of incompetence, falsehood and trolling that we have faced that it is impossible to say if, when he wished England and Scotland good luck for the Euro 2020 finals last summer but forgot to mention wales, he didn’t know if they too were involved, didn’t care, or were just doing it to upset a part of the country that is unlikely to vote for him. Or possibly all three.

But as a shameless populist government, they seem to be spending a lot of time in the game when there are plenty of other pressing issues they could be pursuing. But when they find the time, they do it. In December 2021, Michael Gove found £1m on the back of the sofa for the purchase of Gigg Lane from the government’s alleged ‘levelling fund’, following the collapse of Bury FC two years earlier. Would he have if Bury North, the constituency in which Gigg Lane is located, had not the most marginal square in the country and one seized by the Conservatives by a majority of just 105 in December 2019?

And that question can be extended to other places as well. Would the Johnson government have made similar arrangements for, say, Liverpool, if they had fallen into the same position as Chelsea earlier this year? We will probably never know for sure; That it is even a question asked in good faith says something about the way this country is being governed. We continue to await with great anticipation the details of what will be the independent regulator for football it will look like following the flurry of headlines that accompanied the confirmation that it will happen. Once again, the only satisfactory answer to these headlines is that we’ll believe it when we see it.

Governments used to distrust football precisely because it was so divisive, and maybe that was a good thing, because when they got involved in the game before, things didn’t always go particularly well. Everyone remembers when David Cameron got Aston Villa, the team he claimed to ‘support’, and West Ham United, a team that wears the same colors as Villa. mixed. Tony Blair was an enthusiastic supporter of a British league to the extent that he became, by his own admission, ‘pretty obsessed’ for an idea that would have fallen like a cup of sick cold with most supporters. The least that is said about the former secretary of health Matt Hancock’s attempts to play the game, the best. And anyway… when the government is putting pressure on a football body for the ownership stake of a club that may be related to other government, maybe it’s time for everyone involved to pause, take a breath and consider whether all of this could have gone a little also far.

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