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Premier League told controversial owners’ and directors’ test is ‘hopelessly unsuited’ to the task

Amnesty International have called on the Premier League to completely ‘overhaul’ the owners’ and directors’ test following Newcastle’s failed takeover bid.

A consortium bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), and spearheaded by businesswoman Amanda Staveley, agreed a deal with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley in April.

But the bid was marred by controversy regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and allegations of TV rights piracy – which led to four months of scrutiny from the Premier League before the takeover eventually fell through.

The takeover saga shone light on the Premier League owners’ and directors’ test, which closely looks at whether potential investors meet certain standards in order to protect football’s reputation. 

And following the failed £300m takeover, Amnesty International have written to the Premier League to give their feelings on the ‘hopelessly unsuited’ test.

‘The current test is hopelessly unsuited to the task of vetting who gets to own and run English football clubs – it needs a serious overhaul,’ Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s director, said. 

‘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 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… but top-flight football needs to sort out this thorny issue of ownership.’ 

The PIF had become frustrated with the lack of progress over the owners’ and directors’ test, leading to the eventual withdrawal of the takeover.

The takeover would have seen Saudi Arabia’s PIF gain an 80 per cent stake in the north east club.

The British-based Reuben brothers and financier Staveley were planning to each buy the remaining 10 per cent stakes to end the ownership of retail entrepreneur Ashley.

The takeover had been mired in controversy since it became public in the spring, with Saudi Arabia also having been accused of war crimes in Yemen – but was not part of the issue that held up the Newcastle deal.

Amnesty International, and Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, wrote to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters opposing the takeover during the drawn out process. 

After the takeover collapsed, Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: ‘This is the right outcome for the wrong reasons.

‘The negotiations should never have taken place. The history and character of the Saudi regime should have been enough to prevent it even being considered.

‘The message this deal would have sent is a terrible one. The FA must look at the fit and proper persons test and strengthen it to ensure that clubs are not entering negotiations with human rights abusers in the future. Football clubs should never be propaganda vehicles for dictatorships.’

But the major stumbling block was Saudi Arabia’s involvement in TV piracy, with the Gulf state facilitating the illegal broadcasting of Premier League matches via TV network beoutQ.

Qatar-based beIN Sports — who own the rights to show English top-flight games in the Middle East — had demanded that the takeover was blocked, while MPs lobbied for the Government to intervene. Opposition to the Saudis strengthened earlier in July when their court banned beIN from broadcasting in their country — meaning there was no legal way to watch the Premier League there. 

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