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Newcastle fans group to protest as Saudi owners announce £70.4m cash boost

Newcastle fans opposed to the club’s Saudi owners are to stage a protest highlighting human rights abuses in the Gulf state ahead of Saturday’s match at home to Chelsea. 

Wednesday’s announcement by NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing came as Newcastle’s ownership group revealed it had invested a further £70.4 million ($80.3 million, 80.1 million euros) into the northeast side.

The consortium which took control at St James’ Park in October last year is 80 percent funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund chaired by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Wednesday’s cash injection means the ownership group have now invested more than £450 million into the club.

The additional financial clout has been reflected on the field with Newcastle, one of the best-supported teams in England but without a major domestic trophy in 67 years, now third in the Premier League following Sunday’s 4-1 win at Southampton.

But the Saudi involvement at Newcastle has proved controversial.

Some campaigners have been accusing the country of using the club to distract attention from human rights abuses including mass executions, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and discrimination against women and homosexuals.

A spokesperson for NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing told Britain’s PA news agency: “If part of sportswashing is to hide these human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia that they’re committing, then a protest like this is an opportunity for us as fans to say we’re not going to ignore those things just because they own the club”.

Saturday’s match has been chosen for the protest as a day before the sides last met at Stamford Bridge in March, 81 people were executed in Saudi Arabia.

The spokesperson added many fans would be “conflicted” over wanting to support the team while being concerned by the club’s owners.

“We just want to say it’s your decision. If you want to support the team, then do that, but be aware of the issues with the ownership.”

Newcastle refused to comment on the planned protest.

However, chief executive Darren Eales was more forthcoming about what the extra investment would mean for the Magpies’ hopes of establishing themselves as a “club that can compete consistently at the highest levels of English and European football”.

“We need to develop the whole business, as well as the playing squad,” he explained.

“And we need to do so while adhering to the Financial Fair Play rules. This additional investment further enables us to continue implementing the business plan.”

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