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HomeSportSt James' Park to host two Saudi Arabia friendlies

St James’ Park to host two Saudi Arabia friendlies

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St James’ Park was a venue for international football at the 2012 Olympics.Saudi Arabia will play two international friendlies at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park.The Green Falcons will face Costa Rica on Friday, 8 September and South Korea on Tuesday, 12 September.A Saudi Arabia-backed takeover of Newcastle was completed in October 2021, with 80% of the funds provided by the state’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). The friendlies will form part of the team’s 2024 AFC Asian Cup preparations.The Magpies’ public-facing link with Saudi Arabia has been highlighted more prominently in recent months, with the club signing a shirt sponsorship deal worth £25m per year with state event company Sela, as well as revealing an away kit in a similar shade of green as the Saudi flag.Newcastle and the Premier League insisted the club’s owners are separate from the Saudi state when the deal was completed.The PIF takeover has proven controversial since its completion because of Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record, and Amnesty International called for the deal to be re-examined by the Premier League earlier this year.Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty International, criticised the decision to hold the international matches at St James’ Park, calling it another example of “how sportswashing works”.He called on Newcastle manager Eddie Howe, co-owner Amanda Staveley and others at the club to “break their collective silence” on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.Despite Saudi Arabia defeating eventual winners Argentina in their opening match of the 2022 World Cup, they were knocked out in the group stage and manager Herve Renard left to take charge of the France Women’s national team in March.Former Manchester City and Italy boss Roberto Mancini has recently been linked with the vacant role.Earlier this year the PIF took control of four Saudi Pro League clubs – Al-Ahli, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad and Al-Nassr – and merged its LIV Golf brand with the PGA Tour in a move which players said left them “shocked and angry”.

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