Richard Masters raises UEFA concern in new letter after government's Newcastle takeover fear

Richard Masters has warned that the new football regulator could encounter 'issues' with FIFA and UEFA if it is not truly independent.

The Football Governance Bill, which will establish the independent football regulator, makes it clear that decisions on current owners as well as new custodians 'must also have regard to the foreign and trade policy objectives of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom'. That clause could apply to clubs such as Newcastle United, for instance, given the UK government's relationship with Saudi Arabia.

After all, 2020 papers released by the Foreign Office revealed that a possible failure of the takeover would have posed an 'immediate risk' to UK-Saudi relations. Documents disclosed following a freedom of information request by the Athletic even stated that Sir Edward Lister, the chief strategic adviser to then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was considering 'who we might nominate as a senior interlocutor to impress HMG (His Majesty’s Government) interests with the Premier League as they finalise their consideration'.

READ MORE: Dan Ashworth sees £400m FFP nightmare as Newcastle 'hunters' trouble Manchester United and Spurs

READ MORE: Mike Ashley hits back as Sports Direct's Adidas kit dispute with Newcastle takes another twist

The government have always denied having a role in the takeover and, rather than publicly cite a breakthrough in a piracy dispute in the Middle East, Masters insisted the 2021 buy-out only went through after the top-flight were provided with 'legally-binding assurances' that the Saudi state would not control the club. Now, two-and-a-half years on, the Premier League's chief executive has warned of potential government interference after being asked by Dame Caroline Dinenage, the culture, media and sport select committee chair, to set out the top-flight's 'concerns about the drafting of the Football Governance Bill'.

“It is important that the IFR is, and is seen to be, fully independent of government," he wrote in an appendix to his letter. "The Secretary of State must write a Football Governance Statement every three years, as well as have the ability to expand the types of financial conditions that can be imposed on clubs, designate additional Premier League revenue to be eligible for redistribution and to determine what ‘significant influence’ means when it comes to ownership.

“This is in addition to a very specific clause that states the IFR must have regard to the trade and policy objectives of the government when making decisions about the suitability of owners and directors. The government appears to have written a stronger role than anticipated for itself in this regime.

"This may lead to pressure for a future Secretary of State to further expand the scope and powers of the IFR beyond financial sustainability. If this goes too far, it may even conceivably present issues with FIFA and UEFA, whose statutes ban state interference in competitive football.”

The UK's relationship with Saudi Arabia has arguably only grown stronger in recent years despite the Kingdom's appalling human rights record. A fact sheet put together by the department for business and trade confirmed that the trade in goods and services between the UK and Saudi Arabia totalled £17.3bn in 2023 - which represented a 5.3% increase.

The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, even met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the chair of the PIF, in Riyadh back in October. The government stated the pair 'looked forward to working together to advance areas of shared interest for the UK and Saudi Arabia'.

The Prime Minister also introduced King Charles III to Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the PIF governor and Newcastle chairman, at a reception at Buckingham Palace just a few weeks later. Al-Rumayyan had been in London, where the PIF have an office, for the Global Investment Summit.