As a Newcastle fan who works for Amnesty I’m glad the takeover collapsed | Newcastle United #Toon

As a Newcastle fan who works for Amnesty I’m glad the takeover collapsed | Newcastle United

Original Source

As a lifelong fan I’ve been as desperate as anyone for change at Newcastle United, but Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record meant this was never the takeover I was hoping for.

I never wanted our club to be used as a PR tool to switch attention from abuses such as the arrest and torture of women’s rights activists, but the uncomfortable truth is that this is what Saudi Arabia’s rulers were likely looking to do.

It sits uneasily alongside what Newcastle as a club and a city means to many of us, and the values shown by thousands of fans who support Britain’s biggest foodbank at every home game. The club is part of our identity, it should mean something more. Many fans who supported the takeover felt this conflict too.

I totally get the anger and frustration felt by most fans right now, who just want to bring some joy back to the club after years of contempt. Watching Newcastle should be a joy, not a chore – and there are young adults now who have no memory of what it was like to have your adoration rewarded with hat-tricks against Barcelona or five-goal routs of Manchester United, or even just the Intertoto Cup.

Everyone can agree that the process has been a mess, and the club and its fans have consistently been treated as mere pawns in other people’s games. Whether the agenda was flogging Sports Direct’s goods, sportswashing Saudi human rights abuses, or protecting Premier League TV rights – it has never been about football, its fans, or the game’s impact on the wider world.

Football needs to learn from this, and the Premier League should start by revamping its processes around who can own a football club, including ensuring the human rights records of potential owners are given proper scrutiny. There are few cultural assets that have such a deep and powerful connection with so many people all across the world, and the league needs to protect that from those who would wish to use it for harm.

The failed takeover of Newcastle was certainly not the world’s first attempt at sportswashing, and it won’t be the last. Keeping politics out of sports is impossible when governments decide to use it for their own ends.

Amnesty has campaigned to highlight abuses linked to sport as far back as the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, and continues to do so today by exposing workers’ rights abuses in Qatar, and in calling on sports bodies like Fifa and the IOC to take their human rights responsibilities seriously. It’s not for us to say who should own a football club, but it has always been our job to highlight the human rights risks involved, pointing out the connections between sport and the “real world”.

In an era where sport, geopolitics and big money are coming together in dangerous ways, we all have a stake in making sure our game represents the best of us. The mess of the last few months of this takeover saga – as well as the last 13 years of Mike Ashley’s reign – shows there is still some way to go.

• Stephen Cockburn is Amnesty International’s head of economic and social justice

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