Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is on the verge of acquiring a significant majority ownership stake in storied English Premier League soccer team Newcastle United. But the reported deal has sparked outrage in the sports world due to the country’s long history of human rights violations.
Adding her voice to the chorus of condemnations this week is Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was critical of the country’s regime. Khashoggi was killed in 2018 in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Turkey, and though Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman denies the allegations, the United States government believes that he ordered Khashoggi’s death.
In response to the news of Saudi Arabia’s Newcastle purchase, Cengiz spoke out, calling on the Premier League to cancel the deal.
“It is undoubtedly the right, proper and lawful action for you (chief executive Richard Masters) and the Premier League to take, especially in light of the ruthless killing of Ms. Cengiz’s fiancée,” her lawyers wrote in a letter on her behalf, adding that English soccer should be closed off to anyone “involved in such abhorrent acts.”
The letter went on to imply that Saudi Arabia’s bid to buy Newcastle was an act of what some have called “sports-washing,” or the attempt to earn positive press by associating their country with athletic achievement and success instead of murder and other human rights violations.
“The standing of both the Premiership and English football in general would be tarnished by your connection with those who commit the most appalling crimes and then seek to whitewash them, and who seek to use English football as a way of improving their image and hiding their transgressions."