Following FOI requests put in by a member of NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing, clear evidence  of behind the scenes collaboration between Newcastle City Council and Saudi owned Newcastle United Football club has been uncovered.

The revelations featured in an episode of File on 4 on BBC Radio 4

As an example of this collaboration, Director of Place Michelle Percy wrote to Amanda Staveley asking her to reach out to the Prime Minister to help with an issue regarding the restoration of the Tyne Bridge. Staveley then obliged by writing to 2 government officials.

Email from Michelle Percy to Amanda Staveley

In a statement following the programme the Council has said it will, “always look at opportunities to drive investment” that “ultimately puts money in the pockets of all our residents”.

However, NUFCFAS feels that the Council’s spin on the revelations is not really addressing the serious issues at hand.

Before the takeover, many politicians, fan groups, and media commentators on Tyneside held onto the far-fetched notion that we would somehow be able to help effect change in Saudi Arabia simply because their government owned our football club. The revelation that Newcastle City Council implored the Saudi state to feed our school children for us should remove any remaining illusions about the nature of our city’s relationship to the NUFC ownership as it stands at the moment.

Rather than holding discussions with club officials on how to ‘set the tone’ on human rights issues, the council would better serve their constituents by engaging with the many human rights groups that have too often been ignored by the city’s councillors and MPs since the takeover so far.

This would be a far better approach to take than inviting NUFC representatives to bimonthly meetings for a “high level  overview of the city and region” so they can “influence the work” the council are doing.

Nor should these representatives be given sight of freedom of information requests before the council responds to requests from its constituents.

We have repeatedly warned since the takeover was allowed by the Premier League after pressure from Boris Johnson’s government, of the danger of an undemocratic regime influencing politics in the North East. Unfortunately the information now in the public domain shows it has happened and the council has actively colluded in it.

This servile behaviour on show in the emails does not yet appear to have secured the significant investment into the city that was promised by NUFC board members prior to the takeover. It is also an enormous embarrassment for the city to appear so utterly beholden to one of the most revolting regimes on the planet.

In September 2023, Yasser Al Misehal, the president of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation told talkSPORT:  "We were given the opportunity to come to Newcastle. We got a nice invitation letter at the beginning of the year from the CEO of the club [Darren Eales] through the British Embassy in Riyadh to start the co-operation and maybe some programmes to help, particularly, our women's national team. Our technical team met with Newcastle and they explored the opportunities. It's a very good location for us and for the players."

Newcastle City Council need to answer some serious questions; did they know that Darren Earles was offering St James’ Park as a venue for Saudi internationals? Did they agree with the offer? When Yasser Al Misehal talked about, ‘co-operation and maybe some programmes to help’ was he referring to the Council’s suggestion that the club should donate £23.6 million to supply free school meals for poor children in Newcastle?

Talking about the NUFCFAS protest outside the Saudi Arabia vs Costa Rica match, Ciaran Kelly reported in the Chronicle that Al Misehal had 'heard about it'. NUFCFAS had pointed out that the freehold of the stadium site belongs to Newcastle City Council and as such they had a duty to comment on the fact a despotic state was being allowed to use an iconic Tyneside landmark as a giant sportswashing billboard.

The council was forced to make a general statement in support of human rights but claimed they could ‘do nothing’ about the Saudi internationals taking place. In fact the council has only made two public comments regarding the club’s ownership and human rights since the takeover – both of them following direct appeals from NUFCFAS.

Contrast those two general statements on human rights in almost three years of Saudi ownership of the club with the hundreds of emails and numerous meetings with club officials. Does the fact that Newcastle City Council has been extremely quiet about standing up for human rights in Saudi Arabia have anything to do with the fact they are hoping for handouts from the regime? As Lina al-Hathoul, the leading Saudi Human rights advocate said in Newcastle last September, addressing her remarks to councillors and MPs who refused or couldn’t be bothered to meet her: “How much does it cost to buy your silence on human rights? What are you going to do when Mohammed Bin Salman starts buying newspapers in the North East?”

Unfortunately, the information NUFCFAS has obtained through FOI requests explains in black and white why Newcastle City Council have been extremely weak in keeping to their pre-takeover commitment to ‘keep talking about Saudi state human rights abuses’. In reality they have worked behind the scenes to in effect ‘normalise’ the ownership of our historic club by one of the most despotic regimes on the planet. They have done this by pitching ideas and initiatives to the club which would show the owners in a better light.

This is an example obtained from the FOI requests; the council’s suggestion that the club should ‘build stories of players’ looks to have been enacted on an ongoing basis – most notably the 2023 Amazon Prime Documentary ‘We Are Newcastle’ featured a number of players sharing stories of their personal lives and careers. This may sound innocuous enough but in effect the Council has been giving free PR advice to the club to aid their sportswashing project. Is it really the job of a democratically elected council to help improve the public image of a despotic human rights abusing regime?

In 2022 Newcastle councillors agreed to end a long-standing twinning arrangement with Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi Province because of accusations the Chinese state uses torture against the Uyghur people.

Why doesn’t the City Council hold the Saudi state to the same human rights standard given their well documented human rights abuses, including the use of torture? Why the double standards? Is it because the Saudi state owns Newcastle United and the Council is hoping they will finance projects which should be fought for and paid out of the public purse? The fact a once proud Labour Party is even suggesting that a public service in Newcastle should be bankrolled by the despicable Saudi royal dictatorship is frankly shocking.    

Newcastle City Council’s relationship with the club’s main owners is far too cosy and has to change. NUFCFAS urges Newcastle City council and Tyneside MPs to publicly condemn human rights abuses by the Saudi state, and take up specific cases when asked by Saudi human rights activists with football club chairman Yasir al-Rumayyan – who is the governor of the PIF and has been described as a “sitting minister” of the Saudi government.

The council should host at the earliest opportunity a meeting with a delegation of Saudi human rights advocates in Newcastle. The FOI emails show that the council has spent a lot of time talking to the representatives of the vile regime which owns the club and in reality easing the way to them being accepted as owners of the club. Now is the time to make good on pre-takeover promises to ‘keep talking about human rights.’ This is the moment for Newcastle City councillors and Tyneside MPs to sit down and listen to the Saudi citizens who are terribly oppressed by the ultimate owners of Newcastle United Football Club, which as we all know now is the Saudi dictatorship. 

The Council should also support a petition to rename a street near St James’ Park, ‘Jamal Khasoggi Street’ to make clear the city’s commitment to human rights.

It’s grotesque that a Labour council passed the begging bowl to the 80% owners of Newcastle United asking them to feed poor kids in the city in a move which can only be interpreted as an attempt to help improve the image of the human rights abusing regime. Instead of opposing sportswashing, the council has by its actions facilitated it.

Email from Amanda Staveley to Pam Smith, Newcastle City Council Chief Executive

What was Nick Kemp thinking when he solicited a £23.6 million donation from the Saudi owners for free school meals? Should a Labour leader really be offering an image-improvement opportunity to a regime which currently has nine young men on death row for ‘crimes’ committed when they were children? It’s incredible that a politician even contemplated an initiative which could have meant Newcastle would have been the first council in a democratic country to depend on a bloody theocratic dictatorship to pay for what should be a public service.

It is particularly disgusting as individual Newcastle City councillors and Tyneside MPs have repeatedly ignored requests from the families of the victims of the Saudi dictatorship to take up their cases with the Chairman of the Newcastle United board, Yasir al-Rumayyan, who is also a sitting minister in the Saudi government which commits horrendous human rights abuses.

A small number of Newcastle City councillors have done the right thing and spoken to Saudi human rights advocates and supported calls for the Council to proactively support the victims of the Saudi regime which owns Newcastle United. Now is the time for the Council leadership and Tyneside MPs to follow their example and put this right.


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