Newcastle MP issues warning message after Saudi Arabia national matches confirmed at St James’ Park

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Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah reminded fans that Saudi human rights records are in ‘sharp contrast’ to the North East city.

An MP for Newcastle has reminded fans of the 'atrocious human rights record' of Saudi Arabia in a reaction to news that the Middle Eastern country's national side would play two international matches at St James' Park in September.

Earlier this month Newcastle United announced that Saudi Arabia would play Costa Rica and South Korea at the famous stadium with tickets being flogged for just £5 to football fans in the area.

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Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central MP Chi Onwurah is an outspoken Magpies fan who has escalated opinions of supporters including writing to LNER about the lack of Carabao Cup transport and successfully urging the council to give the Strawberry Place land back to Newcastle United rather than bailing out developers.

Reacting to news that the Saudi Arabia national team would play fixtures in the city, Ms Onwurah said: "I am a supporter of Newcastle United, like many of my constituents. That support does not in any way imply support for the Saudi regime.

"We must not forget that Saudi Arabia, whose sovereign wealth fund is the effective owner of Newcastle United, continues to have one of the most atrocious human rights records in the world, particularly in regard to the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people. This does not reflect the values of our city.

"Recent documented reports of the shooting of African refugees by Saudi Border Guards stand in sharp contrast to Newcastle's status as a City of Sanctuary. I will continue to support Newcastle United, and to raise the human rights abuses of the Saudi regimes by all means open to me."

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In Saudi Arabia, same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under Sharia law and can be punishable by death. Transgender people can also be prosecuted for failing to follow strict Saudi dress codes imposed by the law.

Human Dignity Trust reports 'substantial evidence' of the law being enforced in recent years with LGBTQ+ people frequently arrested, with some executed for their sexuality.

There have also been 'consistent reports of discrimination and violence being committed against LGBTQ+ people in recent years, including murder, assault, harassment, and the denial of basic rights and services'.

Saudi Arabia will play two fixtures at St James’ Park next month (Image: Getty Images)Saudi Arabia will play two fixtures at St James’ Park next month (Image: Getty Images)
Saudi Arabia will play two fixtures at St James’ Park next month (Image: Getty Images)

Announcing the welcoming of the Saudi Arabia team to Newcastle, in a short statement the club said: "A football-obsessed nation, Saudi Arabia caught the world's attention at last year's FIFA World Cup by beating eventual winners Argentina 2-1 in an enthralling group stage match at Lusail Stadium in Qatar.

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"The two friendlies on Tyneside will form part of the team's preparations for the AFC Asian Cup, which takes place in Qatar in January 2024."

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe was also asked his opinion on the news but the boss admitted he had only seen the announcement when made public by the club. Howe said: “I found out, like you, in the media,” he said. “I had no pre-knowledge of what was happening.

“All I’d say on that is I think Newcastle is an incredible venue to play not just football, but we’ve had bands, rugby, lots of different people, sports at the stadium and it is a truly iconic place to play.”

The announcement online sparked mixed reactions from Newcastle United supporters online at the time with many showing a hesitancy towards the international games while others shared that they would look forward to attending the matches.

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The NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing group have called on the local council to act against the matches and for the FA to take action. Group spokesperson John Herd wrote: "The announcement of Saudi Arabian international matches at SJP could be a bridge too far for many fans, who are starting to see how blatantly the Saudi regime is exploiting their ownership of our club for sportswashing purposes.

"Even at this late stage, Newcastle United Fans Against Sportswashing (NUFCFAS) calls on the FA not to allow the matches to go ahead and urges the Premier League to publish the so-called, ‘legally binding assurances’ that the Saudi state would not be in charge of our club, as clearly they have been broken.

"If the matches are not called off NUFCFAS will call on fans to protest inside and outside the ground against Saudi regime sportswashing and in solidarity with their many victims in Saudi Arabia."

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