Newcastle fans opposed to the club’s Saudi owners have vowed to keep talking about sportswashing as they prepare to protest against human rights abuses.
The consortium which took control at St James’ Park in October last year is 80 per cent funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund chaired by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
The Premier League approved the takeover after receiving assurances there would be no state involvement in the running of the club.
PIF’s backing has handed the Magpies huge spending power, but also attracted criticism from human rights campaigners who have accused the nation of attempting to use the club to distract attention from mass executions, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and discrimination against women and LGBTQ+ people.
Now NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing is to stage a silent protest featuring images of some of those who have been handed death sentences ahead of Saturday evening’s Premier League clash with Chelsea to highlight its concerns.
A spokesperson told the PA news agency: “If part of sportswashing is to hide these human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia that they’re committing, then a protest like this is an opportunity for us as fans to say we’re not going to ignore those things just because they own the club and we’re going to highlight them and we’re going to keep talking about them.
“We want to raise awareness with Newcastle fans of these issues and also raise awareness that there is a group of us that want to talk about these things.”
The group has chosen Saturday’s fixture for a reason: A day before the sides last met at Stamford Bridge in March, 81 people were executed in Saudi Arabia – the largest number in the country’s modern history.
Newcastle are currently thriving on the pitch – they went third in the table after Sunday’s 4-1 victory at Southampton – and supporters who spent years in the doldrums under previous owner Mike Ashley are daring to dream once again.
However, some find themselves unable to get behind the club as a result of their ownership, while acknowledging a range of views on the matter.
The NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing spokesperson said: “No-one wants to give up supporting their club and obviously I understand that lots of other people aren’t going to do that.
“Personally for me, the decision is that I can’t support the team while they are owned by this regime.
“A lot of fans will be conflicted about that and wanting to support the team. We just want to say it’s your decision. If you want to support the team, then do that, but be aware of the issues with the ownership.”
The group, which currently has a “handful” of regular activists, has received a mixed response to its plans, but is hoping to spark a reasoned debate.
The spokesperson said: “We have received some criticism, but I think on the whole, it has been positive and there’s generally a lot of support for it.
“If people want to voice their opinion, then that’s fine, but we hope it’s a peaceful protest.”
Newcastle declined to comment when contacted by PA.