The controversial takeover of Newcastle United by a consortium consisting of the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), the billionaire Rueben brothers, and PCP Capital Partners has hit the headlines again recently.
As part of a separate ongoing case involving the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, for example, a court filing in the USA described Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the Newcastle chairman and PIF governor, as a “sitting minister of the government” of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS).
For the Premier League, foreign state ownership of clubs is no issue in itself. Objections were raised against PIF’s involvement, however, when the World Trade Organisation launched an investigation into Saudi state-backed piracy against rival Qatari sports broadcasters.
It was this geopolitical spat – not any ‘human rights’ considerations – that led to delays in the takeover, which was first mooted as early as January 2020, but was not completed until October 2021.
This deal is now back in the spotlight as a result of a recent investigation by The Athletic.
The sports news website has obtained 59 pages of UK government emails from the period of the initial logjam in 2020. This correspondence reveals that Boris Johnson’s administration effectively pressured the Premier League on behalf of the Saudi regime, in order to try and push their bid through.
This recent controversy has led to calls from many – including Amnesty International and Aston Villa CEO Cristian Purslow – for the takeover to be “re-examined” by the Premier League.
In the case of criticism from other clubs, however, this is mainly a case of sour grapes, given that Newcastle are on the up (currently third in the league this season, at the time of writing, with only a handful of games to go).
If these people were really bothered about the ethics of money in football, they should begin by taking a look at the owners of their own clubs. After all, every team in the sport’s top division belongs to some sort of billionaire, despot, or crook.
The Tory government’s interference in this deal, meanwhile, says something about the parlous state of British capitalism.
The government’s intervention stems from a 2018 agreement with the Saudi regime for a ‘long-term partnership’, which seeks to cash-in on MBS’ ‘Vision 2030’ economic programme.
This is an initiative by the Saudis to diversify their economy, so as to be less reliant on fossil fuels. The aim is to increase investments abroad, whilst developing other sectors at home, including flashy projects such as the tech-utopian ‘mega city’ NEOM.
Equally important, from the UK government’s point of view at least, was the promise of $30 billion of investment in Britain by PIF over a 10-year period.
Some of this money may even have been tied up with the takeover itself, with talk of Saudi funding being injected into the North East as part of the deal.
This is why Johnson and his cronies felt so strongly about pushing the Saudi Newcastle bid through: not because they had any dislike of the previous owner, notorious asset-stripper and Sports Direct CEO Mike Ashley, but because they wanted to protect the interests of British capitalism and its ‘special relationship’ with the rotten Saudi regime.
British capitalism’s decline
The British ruling class is no stranger to rank hypocrisy, of course. What this latest farce highlights, however, is the decline and degeneration of British capitalism itself.
Over the decades, British capitalism has lost its productive industries, and has been transformed into a rentier economy based on speculation and financial services in the City.
Long gone are the days when Britain dominated the world market and exported its capital to every corner of the globe. Now the British ruling class finds itself begging for investment from countries that were once its colonies.
In recent years, for example, the UK has received £60 billion in capital investments from Saudi Arabia. In the other direction, British businesses exported just over £5 billion in FDI (foreign direct investment) to the Gulf state.
The Premier League is itself a reflection of this process, with most clubs now owned either by foreign capitalists, or by British landlords and gambling magnates – that is, by homegrown spivs and speculators.
What is clear is that British capitalism is looking increasingly frail. Consequently, its political representatives are having to resort to ever-more desperate measures in their efforts to sustain Britain’s position in the world.
Back in March, for example, the Tory government updated its ‘integrated review’ of UK foreign, defence, development, and security policies. This included the stark admission that the British establishment will increasingly have to cosy up to ‘middle ground’ powers such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey – all in the name of defending democracy!
The special crisis of British capitalism, in turn, finds its reflection in all spheres of society. Even the ‘beautiful game’ is being dragged through mud by the Tories, as they fawn after gold and oil money.
Similarly, the sport is increasingly finding itself being used as a battleground for the government’s games of political football and ‘culture wars’, such as the recent censorship of Match of the Day host Gary Lineker.
The Tories and their decrepit system are clearly not in a fit state to make it to the final whistle. It’s time to put the ruling class out of its misery, by kicking capitalism not just out of football, but into the dustbin of history.