Saudi Arabia plans two friendly matches for 2024 AFC Asian Cup preparations
Posted : 16 August 2023
Saudi Arabia has scheduled two international friendly matches at St James' Park, the home of Newcastle United. The Green Falcons are set to compete against Costa Rica on Friday, September 8, followed by a match against South Korea on Tuesday, September 12. These friendlies are an essential part of Saudi Arabia's preparations for the upcoming 2024 AFC Asian Cup.
The connection between Saudi Arabia and Newcastle United has gained increased attention recently, particularly after a Saudi-backed takeover was finalized in October 2021. The takeover, which saw 80% of the funds coming from the state's Public Investment Fund (PIF), has been the subject of controversy due to Saudi Arabia's human rights record.
Despite the connections, both Newcastle United and the Premier League emphasized the separation between the club's ownership and the Saudi state when the takeover occurred.
The announcement of these international matches being held at St James' Park has been met with criticism from Amnesty International. Sacha Deshmukh, CEO of Amnesty International, referred to the decision as an example of "sportswashing" and urged figures within the club, including manager Eddie Howe and co-owner Amanda Staveley, to address human rights concerns in Saudi Arabia.
Although Saudi Arabia managed to defeat eventual champions Argentina in the opening match of the 2022 World Cup, they were eliminated in the group stage. Following the World Cup, manager Herve Renard departed to take charge of the France Women's national team, potentially leaving the vacancy open for former Manchester City and Italy boss Roberto Mancini.
Moreover, the PIF has been involved in various sporting endeavors, including the takeover of four Saudi Pro League clubs - Al-Ahli, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, and Al-Nassr. The PIF also merged its LIV Golf brand with the PGA Tour, a move that sparked surprise and discontent among players.