Human rights campaigners Amnesty International have also criticised the potential deal.
Amnesty UK director Kate Allen said in a separate letter to Masters: “So long as these questions [about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record] remain unaddressed, the Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the Premier League and the global footballing community.”
Amnesty – a non-governmental organisation which focuses on human rights – has long criticised Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, pointing to long-standing issues including women’s rights, the treatment of the LGBT community and the restriction of free speech.
Western intelligence agencies also believe the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 was ordered by the Crown Prince – something he denies. Saudi authorities blamed a “rogue operation” for Khashoggi’s death.
The country has also been accused of ‘sportswashing’, a term used to describe countries that try to improve their international reputation by investing in major teams or hosting big sporting events.
“The Crown Prince has been using sporting events and personalities as a means of improving the Kingdom’s reputation following the grisly murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi – widely believed to have taken place with his approval,” the Amnesty letter continued.
“Such positive associations with sporting events also distract attention from Saudi’s appalling human rights record, including the imprisonment and torture of women human rights defenders.”
Accusations of sportswashing have previously been rebuffed by the man heading Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented investment in sports, HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal.
“We want to get people more engaged in sport,” he said. “In 2015 just 13% of Saudis took part in sports for half an hour or more each week; we want that to be 40% by 2030. This is all part of a programme designed to get people more active.”