One of the owners of England’s Manchester United soccer team has reportedly canceled a trip to Saudi Arabia amid the growing outcry surrounding the death of a dissident journalist, throwing cold water on rumors he would enter talks to sell the team to Riyadh’s powerful crown prince.
Avram Glazer, whose family owns the English Premier League team, had been scheduled to travel to the so-called Davos in the Desert conference this week, but has joined the growing exodus of business leaders scrapping plans to attend, according to the BBC.
Dozens of executives, from bankers at JP Morgan to officials at carmaker Ford and ride-hailing app Uber, have pulled out of the three-day Future Investment Initiative, as business leaders and others seek to distance themselves from the Kingdom in the wake of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
According to the BBC, Glazer’s decision to stay away from the conference is connected to Khashoggi’s killing and is also intended to quash rumors that the family was considering selling the team to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is widely seen as having had a role in Khashoggi’s death.
Rumors have been swirling in the British tabloid press for several days that Avram Glazer and his brother Joel are looking into selling the team to the crown prince, though the stories have apparently been fueled by little more than unsubstantiated claims.
Worth over $4 billion according to Forbes Magazine, Manchester United is the second most valuable team in the world, after the Dallas Cowboys of America’s National Football League.
The Glazers, based in Florida, also own the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Despite the cancellations, Saudi Arabia is still pushing ahead with the conference, which seeks to project the historically insular kingdom as a lucrative business destination, in a bid to diversify its oil-reliant economy and set the stage for new ventures and multi-billion dollar contracts.
On Saturday, organizers said more than 120 speakers and moderators will participate. Last Monday, they had listed more than 150 speakers.
Khashoggi, who had criticized Prince Mohammed, was last seen walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
After weeks of vehement denials, the kingdom’s assertion on Saturday that the journalist was killed in a “brawl and fist fight” inside the consulate – without revealing the whereabouts of his body — was met with skepticism around the world.