Newcastle United have urged the Premier League to allow an arbitration hearing launched to try and revive a takeover led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to take place in public.
In what appears to be a sign of growing desperation from owner Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s statement claimed it was in the interests of all football fans for the case to be heard publicly and all evidence, as well as verdict, available for scrutiny during and after the hearing.
Newcastle have known since they launched the legal challenge that it would take place in private and the attack on the Premier League by Ashley was condemned as hypocritical by many on Tyneside given he has stubbornly refused to explain almost all of his decisions during 14 years as owner.
The arbitration hearing is due to start this month, which makes the timing of the statement even stranger given it has previously been reported that Ashley is confident he will win the case.
The statement read: “The Club continues to receive requests for updates on its current arbitration claim against the Premier League (‘EPL’) considering the lawfulness of the EPL’s decisions regarding the proposed takeover of the Club involving the PIF.
“Unfortunately, the Club is unable to make any comment about the arbitration. The EPL Rules provide the entire arbitration process is confidential. However, both parties can agree for it to be in public. The Club believes it should be.
“The issues at stake, including the lawfulness of the EPL’s decision making process and the widely publicised alleged influence of the EPL’s commercial partners on the EPL’s decisions, are of far wider interest to other football clubs, fans and the public in general.
“The recent attempted breakaway by some EPL clubs – and the reaction of the government and public to it – has again highlighted the need for transparency and fairness in football governance. Gone are the days when important decisions that affect clubs and their fans should be made secretly, behind closed doors and away from the public eye.
“The Club has nothing to hide with respect to the arbitration and invites the EPL to agree that it should no longer be held behind closed doors. If the EPL has acted lawfully and properly, it should have no reason to be afraid of the public spotlight.
"To date, the EPL has strongly resisted any public scrutiny of its decision-making process. It tried, and failed, to prevent the High Court’s judgment about elements of the arbitration being published last February.
"It is currently attempting to prevent the competition courts considering a claim by the Club’s sellers from taking place in public, arguing that too should be held in confidential arbitration.
“So the Club has invited the EPL to agree – as the claim raises such important issues of sports governance, transparency and openness – that it should be held in public.
“The Club is prepared for every stage of the process to be in public: the public should be able to see the parties’ evidence and arguments as well as the full decision of the Tribunal when it is made.”
The statement also urged all football supporters to lobby their local MPs to put pressure on the Premier League to make the arbitration hearing public, even though the British Government, despite direct lobbying from Saudi Arabia’s government, refused to intervene when the takeover collapsed a year ago.
The Premier League said it would not be making any comment in response to Newcastle’s statement.