Eddie Howe has said he “hasn’t given too much thought” to concerns over St James’ Park holding friendlies for the Saudi Arabia men’s national team next month.

Newcastle United announced on Wednesday that their stadium will host Saudi Arabia for two friendlies in September, playing Costa Rica on September 8 and South Korea on September 12.

The club are majority-owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), and have fostered links with the country since the takeover, including training camps in Riyadh, an away kit which resembles the Saudi national team’s, and shirt sponsorship deals with two Saudi companies, Sela and Noon.

However, Newcastle’s links with the country have been questioned owing to the state’s poor record on human rights, which has been routinely criticised by organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Asked how comfortable he was with the announcement, Howe replied: “Well, I found out like you, the media did, I had no pre-knowledge of what was happening. All I say on that is (that) I think Newcastle is an incredible venue to play, not just football, but we’ve had bands, lots of different rugby, lots of different sports at the stadium, and it is a truly iconic place to play.”



If the source of Newcastle’s spending makes you uneasy, keep talking about it

Over the summer, Howe has insisted that Newcastle’s transfer spending is restricted by financial fair play (FFP), with the club looking to expand commercially to free up spending.

“I want us to be the best-supported club in Saudi,” chief commercial officer Peter Silverstone said during the newly-released We are Newcastle United documentary.

Asked whether Newcastle’s FFP considerations would lead to further link-ups with Saudi Arabia, Howe replied: “Yeah, possibly, I don’t know any of the details behind how we’ve got to this point in the game taking place.

“So whether it’s a financial decision, possibly that might have come into it.”

The decision has been criticised by Amnesty International, who called it another example of “how sportswashing works” and asked Howe, co-owner Amanda Staveley and others at the club to “break their collective silence” on these issues. Howe was not asked about the club’s ownership in the documentary.

Asked whether he empathised with concerns over the friendlies, Howe said: “To be honest, I haven’t really given it too much thought because of how busy my schedule has been. As I said, I found out like you guys did in the media, and I very quickly moved on to Manchester City.”



Newcastle’s Saudi takeover: The UK government’s emails revealed

(Photo: George Wood/Getty Images)