The death of the sport will not be the act of oppressive states buying up major football clubs after being allowed to by shortsighted authorities. It will be fans thinking they can do nothing to stop it and accepting that it is now the norm.

It is five years since journalist Jamal Khashoggi was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by Saudi officials, where he was murdered and dismembered. 

In 2021 the CIA issued a report in which director of national intelligence, Avril D. Haines said: “We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.” The CIA director at the time, Gina Haspel and the other American officials listened to a recording obtained by Turkish intelligence that not only captured Mr. Khashoggi’s struggle against Saudi agents and his killing, but also the sounds of the saw being used on his body.

In October 2021 the takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi state was approved by the Premier League, which claimed they had ‘legal and binding assurances’ that the PIF was independent of the Saudi government and that MBS would not interfere in the running of the club.

Hatice Cengiz, who was engaged to Jamal Khashoggi at the time of his murder made it clear that this was nonsense: "It doesn't make sense because everyone knows the government [in Saudi Arabia] controls everything.”

"The current Saudi regime has a crown prince who is managing everything in the country. The point is this... how do the players, the fans and the director of Newcastle accept this situation?

"I am really sad about this point. I guess money is more important than anything in this life.”

"I want to remind them there are some values more [important] than money. It's so heart-breaking for me to remind the West of these values.”

Since Hatice Cengiz made that statement the links between the regime and the football club have become closer and closer, so much so that no-one now bothers denying it is indeed the Saudi regime which owns Newcastle United. 

The official club kit sponsor Sela is majority owned by the PIF and the Newcastle away strip is now ‘full Saudi.’

MBS appointed one of his right-hand men, Yasir al-Rumayyan as Newcastle United chairman when the Saudi state was still claiming the PIF was independent, yet in US court papers filed by the regime, they claimed that PIF was a 'sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia' and al-Rumayyan a ‘sitting minister’ in the government.

Sela are organising a drone light show at St. James’ Park ahead of the Champion’s League match against PSG. Human rights activists have pointed out that at least the 500 drones used in the show will not be used against Yemeni kids. 

As recently as August of this year, a drone strike by the Saudi-led coalition on Yemeni civilians’ houses in the Al-Akhdua’ area killed three people, including two children, and 14 people were injured; eight women, four children, and two men.

In a sorry reflection of the state of the once beautiful game the Champions League fixture is between two clubs, both owned by human rights abusing states. The owner of PSG, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was awarded the title, ‘Tyrant of the year’ in 2022 by Index on Censorship

Qatar prohibits homosexuality, has no free press, forbids protest, restricts free speech and the World Cup stadiums were built using migrant labour with little to no workers’ rights. An estimated 6,500 migrant workers died in Qatar in the 10 years since they were awarded the World Cup.

So, is that the new normal and is there nothing we can do about our proud clubs becoming sportswashing and soft power vehicles in global and regional rivalries? 

The recent visit of Saudi human rights activist Lina al-Hathloul to Tyneside showed that Newcastle fans are willing to listen to the voices of the victims of the 80% owners of Newcastle United. The two Saudi internationals at St. James' Park were flops and indicates there is a limit to how much the Saudi regime can use the region for propaganda purposes. 

Previous to the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United, political representatives and official fan groups all said they would ‘keep talking’ about human rights. Unfortunately, that has not happened enough but as Lina said in Newcastle, fans can support their team and the victims of the regime which own our club.

Some Newcastle councillors spoke to Lina and offered support. Would it not be a grand gesture if Newcastle City Council followed the example of the city Los Angeles which has renamed a square near the Saudi consulate in honour of Jamal Khashoggi?  

Newcastle is proud to be recognised as a sanctuary city. Let’s make the commitment to human rights real by renaming a street around St James’ Park, ‘Jamal Khashoggi Street’. That would honour his memory and all the many victims of the regime which owns our football club.



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