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Amnesty International writes to Premier League to propose owners and directors test fit for modern age

Miguel Delaney
Newcastle United fans have launched a petition calling for an independent investigation into the Premier League: AP
Newcastle United fans have launched a petition calling for an independent investigation into the Premier League: AP

Amnesty International has written to the Premier League proposing a new owners and directors test that covers human rights concerns and sportswashing, criticising the current situation as “hopelessly unsuited” to the modern landscape.

The letter comes after the collapse of the takeover of Newcastle United by a consortium headed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, a months-long process where Amnesty were among a number of groups arguing there was not enough protection of clubs.

The body has since commissioned a new human rights-compliant test from corporate lawyers David Chivers QC and Seamus Woods of Erskine Chambers, together with a detailed legal analysis. Amnesty’s assessment argues that the Premier League’s current test has “numerous serious shortcomings”, pointing out there is no prohibition “for those complicit in acts of torture, slavery, human trafficking or even war crimes”.

A frequent argument during the Newcastle takeover process was whether it was sufficient to prevent the takeover, given the US senate adopted a resolution holding Mohammed Bin Salman – the ultimate chair of PIF – responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the series of human rights abuses the state has been accused of.

Amnesty points out that the phrase “human rights” does not even appear in the text of the test despite English football supposedly adhering to Fifa standards – article 3 of Fifa’s statutes says that the international football body is “committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights”.

Amnesty previously wrote to the Premier League in April, warning that the competition risked becoming a “patsy” of Saudi sportswashing if the deal was passed.

This proposal also follows a statement from Fair Square, imploring the Premier League to adopt a human rights policy.

The Premier League has told The Independent that the test has always been objective, as well as constantly updated and reviewed over the years. They also exchanged letters with Amnesty over the Newcastle takeover.

As regards the “silence” about the collapsed deal, sources maintain that the test has always involved a “private and confidential process”, and that there are many failed attempts that are never given publicity.

The Newcastle takeover continues to generate a lot of controversy, and the situation has prompted Amnesty to send the proposal.

General view outside the stadium (Getty Images)
General view outside the stadium (Getty Images)

Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s director, said: “The controversy around the Saudi-Newcastle has been a major wake-up call – the Premier League urgently needs to get its house in order.

“The current Owners’ and Directors’ test is hopelessly unsuited to the task of vetting who gets to own and run English football clubs – it needs a serious overhaul.

“At present, anyone wishing to sportswash their reputation by buying into English football can do so knowing that even their involvement in war crimes or torture wouldn’t stop them.

“The Owners’ and Directors’ test simply hasn’t kept up with modern trends in international football ownership, not least with foreign powers buying their way into the game.

“Football can be a real force for good, as the excellent Football Welcomes project has demonstrated, but top-flight football needs to sort out this thorny issue of ownership.”

Read more

What failed takeover means for football and for Newcastle