Amnesty International has called on the football authorities to do more to combat ‘sportswashing’ as Chelsea prepare to face Saudi-bankrolled Newcastle at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
It will mark the Blues’ first home match since sanctions were imposed upon owner Roman Abramovich for his links with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Newcastle were taken over by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund in October and Magpies co-owner Amanda Staveley said last week she was “really sad” that Abramovich had been effectively stripped of ownership.
The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund has given legally binding assurances, which have been accepted by the Premier League, that the Saudi state will have no control over Newcastle.
Amnesty International UK’s chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said: “Big money has obviously dominated top-level English football for years, but this game is a particularly stark reminder of the fact we’re now in an era of global sportswashing.
“Saudi Arabia’s purchase of Newcastle was a glaring example of modern sportswashing – with Mohammed bin Salman adding St James’ Park to a portfolio of sporting acquisitions designed to reshape Saudi Arabia’s international image and distract from the country’s appalling human rights record.
“Roman Abramovich’s links to a Russian state which has crushed dissent at home and carried out suspected war crimes in Syria have long been known, so questions currently being asked about the Chelsea owner should have been asked many years ago.
“The Premier League urgently needs to catch up with a world where sport is a convenient tool of soft power and image management.”
Staveley faced criticism after appearing to criticise the impact of the sanctions then set to be placed upon Abramovich in answer to a question during the Financial Times Business of Football Summit.
“We are always going to have geopolitical issues,” Staveley said.
“This world is always going to have problems and I know it is really hard, and I am really sad today that someone is going to have a football club taken away because of a relationship they may have with someone.”
However, Deshmukh urged the Premier League to make up for lost time and instigate procedures to ensure similar unsavoury developments cannot be repeated in future.
“We’ve been saying for nearly two years that the Premier League needed to take action to prevent top-flight English football being used for sportswashing,” added Deshmukh.
“The Premier League should accelerate its current review of how best to introduce a new human rights-compliant owners’ and directors’ test.”