What Is the Premier League’s Owners’ & Directors’ Test & What Would it Take to Fail it?

What Is the Premier League's Owners' & Directors' Test & What Would it Take to Fail it?
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Newcastle United’s seemingly imminent £300m Saudi-backed takeover has dominated headlines in recent weeks, with Mike Ashley’s wildly unpopular 13-year tenure on Tyneside seemingly in its closing stages at last.

The departure of the power-drinking Sports Direct magnate is far from the end of controversy however, with the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) making up an 80% controlling stake of the prospective ownership group.

Sitting at the head of the PIF, which is worth a reported £250bn, is 34-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Though a staunch ally of Britain and America internationally, the dictator has faced widespread criticism for alleged human rights abuses, as well as his role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, with the purchasing of Newcastle raising concerns about ‘sportswashing’ – the practice of using a club for the purposes of improving a country/regime’s reputation internationally.


With the takeover seemingly in the eleventh hour, ​Amnesty International has written a letter asserting that the deal risks making the Premier League, “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 global footballing community.”

Before that can happen though, all involved must pass the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test (formerly known as the Fit and Proper Person’s Test). All checks are expected to be completed in the next fortnight, according to ​The Guardian.

But what does the famous Owners’ and Directors’ Test actually involve? Here’s everything you ever wanted to know…


What is the Fit & Proper Person’s Test?

What used to be called (and is still popularly known as) the Fit and Proper Person’s Test is now the Owners’ and Directors’ Test, covered in Section F of the Premier League Handbook, publicly available here.

It is not an entrance test or exam as such, but a set of rules to which owners/directors must adhere.

In six pages, it outlines the disqualifying factors in running a Premier League club, the overwhelming majority of which relate to finances (like not being the subject of a bankruptcy order, for example) and pre-existing interests in other clubs (you can’t be a director of two clubs).

While all directors and owners must be declared there is still the issue of how deep the Premier League dig. 

AP Global Sports correspondent ​Rob Harris tells 90min: “The league does conduct due diligence and they have investigatory parties looking into the backgrounds of those involved. They will look into convictions, and things like that.

“Obviously though, they are limited by the information handed over to them and it’s a question of how far they delve into matters such as human rights violations linked to any group investing in a club.”


Does the Premier League take an ethical or moral standpoint on prospective owners?

Manchester city owner Sheikh Mansour bin

​While Amnesty International may say that the morals and actions of those involved with the Newcastle takeover are ‘at odds with the values of the Premier League’, there is little in Section F that scrutinises directors and owners on the basis of ethics – though this is perhaps deliberately muddy.

F.1.5 states that having a criminal conviction (though not a spent one) ‘imposed by a court of the United Kingdom or a competent court of foreign jurisdiction’ prohibits you from ownership/directorship.

However, there is little to indicate that, say, potential human rights abuses will be taken into account. An added appendix of no-no offences in the handbook relates specifically to those around the game itself; such as ‘ticket touting’. 

FIFA now has its own ​Human Rights Policy but there is nothing prescriptive about club ownership which would influence individual associations and leagues.

“There’s no morality clause,” as Harris says.

(FILES) This file picture taken on May 1

Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi-backed takeover in 2008 was not stopped despite similar concerns as those raised in 2020 about Newcastle’s regime change, while former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra bought City in 2007 despite myriad political and legal problems.

It has been suggested, however, that the Premier League put pressure on Shiniwatra to sell as he faced corruption charges in his homeland.


Is there an appetite for the Premier League & football’s stance to change?

Mike Ashley

“Sports media was less in tune with human rights issues back then [in Shiniwatra’s day],” as Harris says. “However, it’s harder to ignore in 2020.

“The rise of human rights up the agenda has happened because of the Qatar World Cup, when human rights groups starting pushing what was happening to media groups to get them more in tune with the reality of what was happening.

“In this day and age sports bodies do need to be at least seen as more morally aware… even if they are only doing so when forced into a corner with difficult questions.”

FBL-WC2022-QATAR-LABOUR-RIGHTS

In the bidding process to the 2026 World Cup (won by Canada, Mexico and USA), FIFA built humans rights into the selection process.

Harris says: “They did the inspection tours and then all the bidders, Morocco and North America combined had to produce a human rights report, which was then assessed independently and published by FIFA, which meant essentially that they had to confess to their human rights issues.”

There is no independent assessment currently involved in the Premier League’s process on ownership takeovers.


So, if Mohammed Bin Salman can buy a Premier League club, what about other dictators? Vladimir Putin? Kim Jong Un?

RUSSIA-POLITICS-ECONOMY-FBL-DIPLOMACY

If the Premier League sidesteps moral decision making on its prospective owners and directors what is to stop even more unpalatable (to British fans) men and women from getting involved in their own sportswashing?

There are restrictions in the handbook stopping those who aren’t allowed into the country from participating in club ownership, while the UK Government’s sanctions on someone like North Korean leader Kim Jong-un or Syria’s Bashar al-Assad would stop Premier League having to take a moral position – however, hypothetical those situations might be.

However, in the case of other leaders and autocrats widely reviled in the West, the situation is less clear and without explicit Government guidance for dealing with that country and its leaders.

Saudi Arabia may be an ally and business partner of the UK, but the court of appeal still ruled British arms sales to the country unlawful in a landmark ruling last summer, amid the conflict in Yemen.

FIFA ​invited then-Sudan president Omar al-Bashir to the World Cup final in Moscow in 2018, despite charges of genocide against him from the International Criminal Court.

From where the Premier League is supposed to take a lead on moral judgements is not always clear.






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