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.
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 unanimously by clubs and to be applied with immediate effect, 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 when 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 that it is “a step in the right direction”.
“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.”
A member of the Qatar royal family, Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, is fronting one of the groups seeking to buy Manchester United.
However, it was reported that he had put in a bid as an individual and he is not backed by the state, which has faced criticism for its treatment of foreign workers, a ban on homosexuality and curbs on political expression.
It is not clear how the enhanced rules will affect Newcastle, or the Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City.
On Tuesday, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters was unable to say if the league had launched an investigation into who had control of Newcastle, if the state of Saudi Arabia has any part in it.
He told a committee of lawmakers: “I can’t really comment on it. I mean, even to the point of whether the Premier League is investigating it, we can’t really comment.”