A Saudi Arabia-led takeover of Newcastle United has been completed with the Public Investment Fund (PIF) buying the Premier League club in a deal worth just over £300 million.
Newcastle have not been English champions since 1927 and have not won any domestic silverware since 1955, and fans believe this takeover will move them out of mediocrity. In seven games this Premier League season, Newcastle are yet to win a game and are 19th in the table, above only Norwich City.
The takeover ends an 18-month deadlock after an agreement was originally reached in April 2020. However, PIF, the world's largest sovereign wealth fund (state-owned investment), failed to pass the Premier League's owners' and directors' test at the time, creating an impasse which has been resolved following intensive talks in recent weeks.
Officially, the Premier League has privately indicated they are now satisfied the consortium has provided proof the Saudi state would not have control of Newcastle. The Premier League declined to comment to ESPN when contacted to explain how they had done this.
"The Premier League, Newcastle United Football Club and St James Holdings Limited have today settled the dispute over the takeover of the club by the consortium of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media," a Premier League statement said. "Following the completion of the Premier League's Owners' and Directors' Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect.
"The legal disputes concerned which entities would own and/or have the ability to control the club following the takeover. All parties have agreed the settlement is necessary to end the long uncertainty for fans over the club's ownership.
"The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club. All parties are pleased to have concluded this process which gives certainty and clarity to Newcastle United Football Club and their fans."
The deal is likely to meet strong public opposition in many quarters, however, given Saudi Arabia's human rights record and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Khashoggi had been critical of the Saudi government and was killed in an act determined by the United States government to have been directly ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ruler of Saudi Arabia and chairman of the PIF.
Amnesty International called on the Premier League on Thursday to focus on human rights issues and "sportswashing."
"Instead of allowing those implicated in serious human rights violations to walk into English football simply because they have deep pockets, we've urged the Premier League to change their owners' and directors' test to address human rights issues," Amnesty's Sacha Deshmukh said.
"The phrase 'human rights' doesn't even appear in the owners' and directors' test despite English football supposedly adhering to FIFA standards.
"We've sent the Premier League a suggested new human rights-compliant test and we reiterate our call on them to overhaul their standards on this."
As part of the agreement with Newcastle, PIF will take an 80% stake, with private equity firm Reuben Brothers paying for a 10% stake and British businesswoman Amanda Staveley receiving 10% for her role in brokering the deal.
Staveley said of the deal: "This is a long-term investment. We are excited about the future prospects for Newcastle United. We intend to instill a united philosophy across the club, establish a clear purpose, and help provide leadership that will allow Newcastle United to go on to big achievements over the long term.
"Our ambition is aligned with the fans -- to create a consistently successful team that's regularly competing for major trophies and generates pride across the globe."
Sources have told ESPN that the catalyst for the sudden change was the end of a four-year dispute over Premier League broadcast rights in the Middle East by Qatari-owned broadcaster beIN Sports, which was banned in Saudi Arabia as the government blocked its signals.
Its content was then allegedly pirated by a Saudi-state run broadcaster beoutQ, which led to the beIN Corporation launching an international investment arbitration against Saudi Arabia seeking damages totalling more than $1 billion.
The World Trade Organization ruled last year that Saudi Arabia helped breach international piracy laws in relation to beoutQ but despite an acknowledgement to rectify the issue, beIN channels were still not shown fully in the region.
The arbitration process continued but sources have told ESPN that the Saudis have recognised their defence was likely to fail and have instead now sought a settlement with the beIN Corporation.
Now the piracy issue has been resolved, the Premier League is no longer in dispute with the Saudi state, although they maintain the key factor has been PIF proving it is a separate entity from the country's government rather than the end of the broadcast rights row.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.