Newcastle United wearing the colours of Saudi Arabia’s national football side on their away shirt next season would be “clear evidence” of sportswashing by the Gulf regime, Amnesty International has said.
Leaked images were circulated online on Thursday night purporting to show Newcastle’s strips for the forthcoming season, the first full term under the majority ownership of the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF). Although photos showed the home colours remaining the traditional black and white, the away colours were white with a green trim, the same as the Saudi national team and a combination never worn by the Premier League side.
Questions over the proximity of PIF to the Saudi state have persisted since the Premier League allowed a takeover to go through last October. The league said it had guarantees Saudi Arabia would not control Newcastle, but Amnesty said the images suggested otherwise.
“If it is true that Newcastle United is changing its away kit to match Saudi Arabia’s national colours, it exposes the power of the Saudi dollar and the kingdom’s determination to sportswash its brutal, blood-soaked human rights record,” Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of campaigns, said.
“Despite all their assurances of a separation between the Saudi owners and the club this seems like clear evidence of the regime using Newcastle to portray a positive image.
“Everyone – from fans to champions – needs to resist being part of Saudi Arabia’s propaganda drive, be aware of what is going on there and speak out about the government’s abuses: the mass executions, [the journalist Jamal] Khashoggi’s murder and dire situation for LGBTI+ people. Sport must not be allowed to be used like this.”
The Guardian made multiple attempts to contact Newcastle United but received no reply to a request for comment.
The news came on the day that Newcastle appointed the chief executive of the Saudi Golf Federation, Majed al-Sorour, to their board. Sorour’s Golf Saudi project has commissioned Greg Norman to build a course near Riyadh, and the PIF is one of the chief backers of the Australian’s controversial LIV Golf invitational series.
This week Norman described the murder of Khashoggi, an act believed by US authorities to have been approved by the Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman, as a “mistake”. Amnesty told the Guardian that Norman’s remarks were “wrong and seriously misguided”.