Newcastle United has issued a statement urging fans to refrain from wearing mock Arab clothing or head coverings following the Saudi Arabian-backed takeover of the club.
Many supporters wore what appeared to be towels or sheets on the day the takeover was announced and subsequently at the Premier League match against Tottenham at St. James’ Park on Sunday.
“A number of supporters have recently attended St. James’ Park wearing associated head coverings and robes,” the statement read.
“No-one among the new ownership group was in any way offended by the attire of the fans who chose to celebrate in this way. It was a gesture that was acknowledged as positive and welcoming in its intent. However, there remains the possibility that dressing this way is culturally inappropriate and risks causing offence to others.
“All visitors to the club are, as always, encouraged to wear whatever is the norm for their own culture or religion, continuing to reflect the broad and rich multicultural communities and groups from which the club proudly draws its support.”
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The three-party consortium that purchased the club includes the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), venture capital and private equity company PCP Capital Partners, and RB Sports and Media.
There has been much controversy about PIF’s involvement in the takeover, but the consortium was apparently able to successfully demonstrate that Saudi Arabia would not have control of the club and could therefore pass the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test.
PIF is a sovereign wealth fund chaired by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Its involvement in the takeover of Newcastle has been a long-running saga in English football, during which time Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has come under scrutiny.
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At a hearing on Tuesday, Scottish National Part MP John Nicolson, who is part of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, said his heart went out to Hatice Cengiz, fiancée of the late Saudi journalist, when he saw the celebrations from some Newcastle fans.
“I’m trying to imagine what it must be like to be Jamal Khashoggi’s widow, when her husband has been chopped up and murdered on the instructions of the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and she sees numpties dancing around in cod-Arabic headdresses outside Newcastle United,” he said.
“On a personal basis for her, that must be heart-rending.”
At the time of the takeover, Cengiz tweeted: “It is so terrible to read that once again money has been more important than justice. What a shame and embarrassment for @NUFC. What a shame and embarrassment for @NUFC.
“I hope the fans and players of @NUFC will hold their owners to account and ask them why no one knows where Jamal’s body is yet?”