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Premiership trio decline to comment on reported Saudi Arabian investment

By PA
A Gallagher Premiership corner flag during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Northampton Saints and Worcester Warriors at Franklin's Gardens on December 26, 2020 in Northampton, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Newcastle, Gloucester and Northampton have declined to comment following a report they are among four Gallagher Premiership clubs in talks with Saudi Arabian investors.

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The Telegraph claims discussions have taken place between the clubs – Leicester are also named – and “associates” of the Saudi sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has an 80 per cent stake in Newcastle United.

According to the newspaper, any PIF investment in English rugby would be seven figures and include control of stadium naming rights, in addition to the formation of a Saudi-based rugby academy.

Critics of the Saudi regime say the country is expanding its sports portfolio to hide its long history of human rights abuses.

Amnesty International UK has called for rugby authorities to ensure ownership rules are able to prevent “powerful individuals linked to serious human rights violations” buying into the game.

Felix Jakens, the human rights group’s head of priority campaigns and individuals at risk, said: “It was perhaps inevitable that Saudi ‘sportswashing’ would eventually turn its attention to rugby.

“If these deals go through it’ll be yet another example of how the Saudi state seeks to use its involvement in elite sport to distract from the country’s appalling human rights record while fashioning a new image for the country.

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“Among other things, the rugby authorities will have to reconcile their own stated principles on inclusivity with the fact that homosexuality is prohibited in Saudi Arabia and punishable by flogging and imprisonment.

“The rugby authorities ought to do what football failed to do with the Newcastle United takeover, which is to ensure that rugby’s ownership rules are able to prevent powerful individuals linked to serious human rights violations overseas buying into the game to sportswash their reputations.”

In the past 18 months, the PIF attracted a host of big names to its soccer Pro League, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Neymar and England midfielder Jordan Henderson, who has since moved to Dutch club Ajax.

The contentious Saudi-backed LIV Golf series merged with the PGA and DP World Tours last summer while Formula One, boxing, snooker and horse racing are all heavily associated with the Gulf kingdom.

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The Premiership now comprises 10 clubs after a turbulent 2022-23 season saw the demise of Worcester, Wasps and London Irish, with all three entering administration.

Premiership Rugby does not intend to comment on the Telegraph report.

The PA news agency has contacted Leicester for comment.

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