Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

The Middle East’s golden girl
Sensemaker Audio

The Middle East’s golden girl

The Middle East’s golden girl

Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund took a controlling stake of Newcastle United for £300 million. It’s the most controversial Premier League takeover to date. But who’s pulling all the strings?

Transcript

Chloe Beresford: Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

You probably haven’t heard my voice before. That’s because I’m the host of our sister podcast, the Playmaker, a daily show covering the world of football, very much like how the Sensemaker covers news. 

And we’d love you to listen because even if you didn’t think you cared much about football, there’s a chance you’ll probably care about stories like this one. 

So, onto today’s story, Amanda Staveley and the Newcastle United takeover. 

***

Sports and politics are often intertwined,  and nowhere more so right now than in England’s Premier League as more and more of its clubs are bought by foreign owners. 

Chelsea paved the way when a Russian businessman, Roman Abramovic, bought the club in 2003.  

Once he came and went freely to the UK, but problems with an entrepreneurial visa in 2018 have meant he’s not been seen until he managed to enter this week by using his Israeli citizenship.

Another club owner – Sheikh Mansour of Manchester City – has been singled out for the human rights record in his country, the United Arab Emirates.

Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment fund – known as PIF – took a controlling stake of Newcastle United. It cost them 300 million pounds. 

Newcastle’s fans were delighted.

Right, in case you hadn’t noticed, there are new owners at Newcastle. You might’ve heard about it this week. The £300 million Saudi Arabian takeover ending Mike Ashley’s 14 year reign. What a couple of days it’s been, those absolute scenes outside St. James’ park the other night.

Sky Sports News

Yet this has been the most controversial Premier League takeover to date, due to Saudi Arabia’s reputation for Human Rights abuses.

Amnesty International were not happy. Here’s their UK chief executive Sacha Deshmukh.

It’s an amazing privilege for someone to own a football club. And I think that privilege to be in the hands of something where it’s just being used to wash the reputation of a place that has such heinous, terrible human rights abuses, that for me is just a really, really sad day. 

Sky News

It might be a surprise to learn that this Saudi Arabian takeover was spearheaded by a British woman, named Amanda Staveley. 

She has come out of the deal with a 10 percent ownership stake in Newcastle. It’s taken her four years to convince the Premier League to accept this deal.

And Amanda Staveley is an intriguing character. 

The daughter of a wealthy North Yorkshire landowner, Staveley earned a place at Cambridge University, but instead of graduating, she borrowed almost two hundred thousand pounds to open a restaurant near the Newmarket racecourse. 

It was there that she met many influential Middle Eastern businessmen and began building a network of contacts. 

She was named businesswoman of the year at the age of 27 after opening a leisure and conferencing facility in Cambridge Science Park.

And when she escorted King Abdullah of Jordan on a fact-finding mission in the local area, she met Prince Andrew. Eventually, he proposed to her. 

She turned him down, the reason was said to be fear of compromising her career. So as you can see, Amanda Staveley is a formidable businesswoman who is unafraid to ply her trade in what are often seen as traditionally male spheres: business, banking, and Royal Families.

According to The Telegraph, she is trusted by oil-rich sheikhs ‘like almost no other non-Arab’.

And of course she’s female too. She’s operating in countries that have been flagged by Amnesty International as highly discriminatory towards women.

She helped Sheikh Mansour – a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family – to invest £7.3 billion in Barclays back in the financial crisis of 2008, and was also key in his purchase of Manchester City later that same year.  

The deal to keep Barclay’s afloat revealed a lot about the culture in which she operated.  A subsequent court case disclosed the sexist way she was treated by some senior executives at the bank – male executives, that is.  It emerged she was referred to as a “tart” and a “dolly bird.” 

Her ambition to operate in what can still be seen as a man’s world has now spread to football and Newcastle. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epdvwbBnoWc [5.41-6:10]

Simon Jordan: So what’s your point to Amanda?

Amanda Staveley: So my point is this: you’re barking at the moon.

Simon, I think actually, you’re wrong. And I’ll tell you why. Sport has changed. You said you’ve got twenty years and I’m barking at the moon. Well actually, football has changed dramatically in the last two years.

Simon Jordan: And I agree with you.

Amanda Staveley: Because of Covid. Okay? And I know you’re not pro our deal. So I’m not going to get into a spat, a spitting fight over it with you on Talk Sport. 

Talk Sport

She is the now the face of the board.  

And she’s up against a considerable task – and not just in turning round the club’s fortunes on the pitch.  She will be aware of how some might be tempted to think the foray into football is an opportunity for the Saudis to repair their reputation. 

It’s the kind of move that’s led to claims of “sportswashing” –  the idea that states like Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia are using football to clean up their reputations. .

“We’re here to invest, we are patient. We are you know, PIF is an autonomous, commercially driven investment fund and with Jamie Reuben we are here to try to be the best custodians of this club that we can be. You’re the best fans, greatest fans in the world, you deserve.

Sky Sports Football

Her career moves – some of which may be controversial – are daring. 

And since 2013, she’s been living with a degenerative, incurable brain disease called Huntington’s. That could make a person more likely to seize the moment.

She’s already proved that she can handle a tough, male environment. But everything in football is played out in the public eye. Taking on the running of a high-profile club like Newcastle will be Amanda Staveley’s biggest challenge yet. 

Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford and produced by Imy Harper.