Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham says he believes no-one “feels completely comfortable” about a potential takeover of Manchester United by Qatari royal Sheikh Jassim.
Burnham, though, said issues over Qatar’s human rights record are “for the UK government”.
United have been up for sale since November 2022, with Sheikh Jassim’s Nine Two Foundation and Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s INEOS the two main bidders. But the potential sale from the Glazers to one of those parties is dragging on, with the American family holding out for a high asking price.
Qatar’s human rights record — with issues including workers’ rights, women’s rights and the illegality of homosexuality — came under scrutiny first because of the 2022 World Cup, but now also due to Jassim’s bid to buy United.
“These are questions that everyone’s having to embrace in this Premier League era,” Burnham told Global’s The News Agents podcast when asked about the prospect of Qatari ownership of United.
“I don’t think anyone feels completely comfortable about it and I’m going to be really clear about that.
“But the Premier League has kind of moved into a place where, is all the money clean in any Premier League club? There’s associations with regimes around the world. That’s how it is now, isn’t it?
“Obviously, we don’t have an outcome yet with regards to the ownership of Manchester United. I think there’s a lot of people in this city would tell you there’s a lot wrong with the current ownership regime there, in terms of the money that’s been taken out of Manchester United over the last decade or so.”
Jassim’s bid insists he is bidding as a private individual rather than a state entity, through the Nine Two Foundation.
United’s cross-town rivals, Manchester City, were bought by Sheikh Mansour of the United Arab Emirates in 2009.
Abu Dhabi investors have since played a major role in redeveloping swathes of east Manchester, near City’s stadium. Despite similar criticism of the Emirati ownership on human rights grounds as well as serious allegations about financial malpractice, which the club deny, the arrangement is generally viewed positively by local political and business leaders.
‘Manchester is deeply pragmatic’: Why the city is cautiously open to Qatari cash
Burnham was also asked whether he had questions or felt uneasy about the prospect of Qatari ownership, given the country’s human rights record.
“I think there’s a differentiation, isn’t there?” Burnham said. “You can’t solve those issues from here, can you? Those are issues for the UK government talking to the Qataris. Those human rights issues have to be raised at that level and they were, through the World Cup.
“If they (human rights issues) were so strong, the country (UK) would have to decide as a country to say, ‘This is our relationship with Qatar’.
“The engagement brings the opportunity to have a different dialogue with them about what this city is all about, what we expect in terms of respecting equality, anti-discrimination, human rights across the board.
“Football always creates that opportunity for that type of dialogue between people and it’s one that this city will never shy away from.”
The Manchester United takeover is dragging on – do the Glazers really want to sell?
(Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)