New rules bar human rights abusers from owning Premier League clubs

AFP , Thursday 30 Mar 2023

An individual who has committed human rights abuses will be unable to be an owner or director of a Premier League football club under new rules approved on Thursday.

Premier League
The general view inside Old Trafford stadium in Manchester ahead the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Southampton, England, on March 12, 2023. AP

Human rights abuses, based on the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020, will be one of a number of additional "disqualifying events" under a strengthened owners' and directors' test for England's top flight.

The new rules, approved by clubs, also mean a person or company subject to British government sanctions would be disqualified.

The range of criminal offences that would result in disqualification has been extended to include offences involving violence, corruption, fraud, tax evasion and hate crimes.

The Premier League also has the power to bar people from becoming directors where they are under investigation for conduct that would result in a "disqualifying event" if proven.

English football chiefs have been criticised by rights groups, including Amnesty International, for allowing Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) to fund a takeover of Newcastle, despite their concerns over the country's human rights record.

Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK's economic affairs director, responded to Thursday's announcement by saying: "It's a step in the right direction that human rights and hate crimes are now being considered.

"But it'll make little difference unless powerful individuals linked to serious human rights violations overseas are definitively barred from taking control of Premier League clubs and using them for state sportswashing."

He added: "Would, for instance, a future bid involving Saudi or Qatari sovereign wealth funds be blocked by this rule change? -- it's far from clear that they would."

The enhanced rules come after the British government announced in February a plan to create an independent football regulator to oversee the financial sustainability of the men's game in England.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters warned the regulator should not be a "sledgehammer", echoing concerns expressed by some clubs.

On Tuesday, however, Masters was unable to say if the Premier League had launched an investigation into who had control of Newcastle, telling a committee of lawmakers: "I can't really comment on it. I mean, even to the point of saying, 'is the Premier League investigating it?', we can't really comment on it."

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