Premier League to block human rights abusers from owning clubs

Critics remain to be convinced that changes will prevent sportswashing

Premier League clubs have approved tougher measures for its owners’ and directors’ test that would bar anyone found to have committed human rights abuses from owning a club. At a meeting of English top-flight club shareholders on Thursday, amendments to the test were agreed, including a number of new “disqualifying events”.

Human rights abusers – based on the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations – and people subject to government sanctions will not be allowed to become owners or directors and the list of criminal offences that would result in disqualification has been widen to include violence, fraud, corruption, tax evasion and hate crimes.

The rules, which will take effect immediately, are regarded as tougher than the independent regulator proposals designed to replace the tests used by the Premier League, Football Association and EFL. Anyone under investigation for the “disqualifying events” would be prevented from becoming a director. Owners and directors in situ will be reviewed as part of annual due diligence, to ensure compliance with the rules.

It was agreed the group of regulatory authorities where a suspension would cause a disqualification will be expanded to include the Charity Commission, Financial Conduct Authority, Prudential Conduct Authority and HMRC.


The test has been under heavy scrutiny, heightened after the takeover of Newcastle by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) despite the country’s poor human rights record. There was also dismay among clubs that a brief filed in a US court case involving the PGA Tour and LIV Golf describes the PIF as “a sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” and Newcastle’s chairman, Yasir al-Rumayyan, as “a sitting minister of the Saudi government”.

When the league approved the Newcastle takeover, it said it did so after receiving “legally binding assurances” the Saudi state would not have control of the club. It is understood the updated rules would not have affected Saudi’s crown prince, Mohamed bin Salman, the chairman of the PIF, or any other PIF members.

Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK’s economic affairs director, said: “It’s a step in the right direction that human rights and hate crimes are now being considered, 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. 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.

“The acid test of whether this new rule is fit for purpose is whether it would involve serious efforts to assess the involvement of prospective buyers in human rights abuses. Top-flight English football still risks becoming the sportswashing toy of authoritarian figures around the world unless the Premier League gets this right.”

The shareholders voted against a proposal to make a Netflix documentary. The Formula One version Drive to Survive has proved highly popular but clubs rejected the idea of a Premier League version featuring all 20 clubs over concerns about how much player access would be required and potential conflict with rights holders.