The Premier League must change its rules to prevent human-rights abusers from taking control of clubs, Amnesty International has said.
In a letter to the chief executive, Richard Masters, Amnesty has suggested changes to the owners’ and directors’ test that would disqualify prospective owners “on the grounds of contributing to human-rights violations”.
It comes after the collapse of the Saudi Arabian bid to take over Newcastle, a move Amnesty described as “sportswashing”.
The test prevents individuals from becoming directors if they fail to meet certain limited criteria. These include having previously been disqualified from holding such a role, having been subject to a bankruptcy order or having an unspent criminal conviction in the UK.
The test does prevent a director from being appointed if “in the reasonable opinion of the board, he or she has engaged in conduct outside the United Kingdom that would constitute an offence … if such conduct had taken place in the United Kingdom”. The offences described are limited to “dishonesty”, however, including “dishonestly receiving a programme broadcast from within the UK with intent to avoid payment”.
The phrase human rights does not appear in the text, which runs to six pages in the Premier League handbook.
Amnesty’s proposed changes were devised by two corporate lawyers, David Chivers QC and Seamus Woods of Erskine Chambers, and centre on a proposal that a director should not be considered fit and proper if “he or she has been complicit in an egregious or consistent violation(s) of international human rights law”.
The changes also suggest that a director should be barred if their association with “any government or organisation” might risk “bringing the league, the club and/or the game into serious disrepute”.
Amnesty claims the changes would not cut across any of the league’s other commitments.
“The controversy around the Saudi-Newcastle takeover has been a major wake-up call – the Premier League urgently needs to get its house in order,” said Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s director.
“The owners’ and directors’ test is hopelessly unsuited to the task of vetting who gets to own and run English football clubs – it needs a serious overhaul. At present, anyone wishing to sportswash their reputation by buying into English football can do so knowing that even their involvement in war crimes or torture wouldn’t stop them.
“The owners’ and directors’ test simply hasn’t kept up with modern trends in international football ownership, not least with foreign powers buying their way into the game.”
The Premier League said it would not comment on the letter.