Saudi sports washing


Open letter from Reprieve to Sebastian Vettel

October 2022

Saudi Arabia is using its vast wealth to attract a range of sports and sports competitors to its shores as part of a programme to improve its reputation. They have also poured large sums into Newcastle United football club as part of the same exercise. The money seems to work and sports such as tennis, golf, equestrianism, boxing and formula 1 racing have all eagerly taken part and accepted the Saudi millions. They have invested in US sports such as baseball and basketball. The sports people seem not to be concerned at the lack of women’s rights, the use of torture, suppression of free speech and barbaric executions which go on there. In addition, Saudi Arabia has been involved in the war in Yemen which has resulted in considerable loss of life.

Below, is a letter from Reprieve to the racing driver Sebastien Vettel asking him to speak out –

Dear Sebastian Vettel,

We wanted to tell you, as an F1 driver for Aston Martin, about the Saudi Arabian government’s human rights abuses and the fact that Saudi Arabia has just invested in the company you drive for.

The Reprieve community may not be experts on cars or racing, but we are experts in the case of Abdullah al-Howaiti – a child defendant at risk of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.  

Abdullah was arrested when he was just 14 years old and tortured “confessing” to crimes he did not commit. 

Just last year, the Saudi Arabian regime that has been allowed to invest in Aston Martin, executed child defendant Mustafa al-Darwish, who was 17 years old at the time of his so-called crime. Having a photo on his phone was amongst his alleged offences. If you speak up, you can stop Abdullah facing the same fate.  

The Saudi Arabian Government is doing what is known as sportswashing. They’re appointing tourism ambassadors such as Lionel Messi, creating the LIV golf tournament, and buying sports clubs like Newcastle FC. This is a regime trying very hard to distract people from its human rights abuses. 

We are asking you to follow Lewis Hamilton in speaking out against human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. You can use your platform as one of F1’s most famous drivers and representing a team part-owned by Saudi Arabia’s government to save lives.

We read that you said, “there are certain values we must stand up for because they outweigh financial interests” and “you also have responsibility and you should make sure you go ahead with the right values and symbols.” Today we’re asking you to exercise your responsibility, value Abdullah’s life, and speak out for him before you retire at the end of the year. Your voice could make the difference. 

Will you speak up for him? 

Thank you,   

The Reprieve Community   


You can sign this petition by following this link. Please help us and the Reprieve community in trying to stop Saudi using its wealth to smooth over its appalling human rights record. Thank you.

Sportswashing alive and well


The sporting world seems more concerned with money than with the the activities of the regimes who supply it

August 2022

Two sporting events took place more or less at the same time today : Newcastle United Football Club will be playing Manchester City today and Joshua Reynolds fought a boxing match in Jedda. The connection? Both events are heavily funded by the Saudis as part of its sportswashing activities. They hope by directing attention to the sporting activities, the gaze of the world will be deflected from the horrors of the regime itself: the beheadings and amputations, the use of torture and unfair trials, the brutal silencing of any opposition and the denial of equal rights to women in the kingdom.

A leader in the Observer newspaper today (21 August 2021) suggested that Newcastle United supporters should observe a minutes silence at the start of the match against Manchester City (whose own financing by UAE’s Sheikh Mansour also raised questions with its use of torture, abuse of migrant labourers and unfair trials) in recognition of the draconian 34 year sentence handed down to Salma al-Shehab for faintly ludicrous crimes of ‘disrupting public order’ and allegedly publishing ‘false rumours’. Perhaps the writer of the Observer editorial had not looked at the Newcastle Evening Chronicle and in particular, the sports pages. Had they done so they would have observed (!) that nowhere in the pages of stories about the club, its players and assorted transfers, was there any mention of the goings on by their funders in Saudi or the fate of Salma*.

A successful policy

In most of the reports about the Joshua match, the focus was on his childish sobbing because he lost narrowly to the Ukrainian. Both Newcastle and Joshua Reynolds are in receipt of substantial sums from Mohammed bin Salman. One has to admit it is a largely successful policy. As far as the sports writers and supporters are concerned, it’s the sport that matters and the nature of the dirty money seems to be of little interest to them. Pages of print are taken up with the activities on the field or in the ring and the supporters are not exposed to the unseemly activities of the regime which makes it all possible.

Sport seems almost detached from the political world despite the fact that huge amounts of money to keep the football league in place comes from a variety of dubious sources and despotic regimes. The vast sums paid in eye-watering transfers do not just come from ticket prices or from thin air. Vast amounts are also available for golf, tennis, Formula 1 and horse racing.

The word ‘sportswashing’ is relatively new but using sport to enhance a regime goes back to the interwar years at least with Mussolini and the 1934 World Cup. Post war and the communist regimes of Russia and East Germany engaged in it to enhance their own prestige but with their own sports people. Many sports are involved including tennis, golf, cycling, F1 and horse racing.

The desire for success by football clubs in particular means that money matters more than anything else. If a club cannot populate its team with the best players, acquired at great expense, it cannot succeed in the league or in other competitions. A kind of dependency grows and questions of propriety and the sordid nature or source of the money get short shrift. When the Saudi funding of Newcastle first came to light, there seemed little concern among supporters about the regime as witnessed in the below-the-line comments in the Chronicle and other social media. Success was the thing and getting rid of Mike Ashley the driving force.

There is no getting away from the fact that sport is a significant element of our culture. Millions watch it on TV, attend matches, buy the kit of their favourite club and read the sports pages. Sportsmen and women and sports commentators are among the top earners in the media universe. They appear immune from any moral opprobrium. They appear on panel shows like the BBC’s A Question of Sport. The moral chasm however is alarming. Anthony Joshua for example, when asked about human rights before a previous bout in Saudi, said he hadn’t heard of Amnesty as he was too busy training at the gym. As the sums mount and more tyrants join in the game of sanitising their reputations by using sport, the question is, will there come a time when the money is so egregious that the political class, or even the sports authorities themselves, begin to take notice? So far, somnolence and heads remaining firmly in sand seems to hold sway.

*There were references in the paper at the time of the funding takeover.

Boxing in Saudi


Mohammed bin Salman continues his sportswashing activity with a boxing fixture tomorrow in Jedda

August 2022

With its vast wealth, Saudi Arabia is pursuing its attempt to whitewash its reputation by sponsoring a boxing match today (Saturday 20th 2022) between British born Anthony Joshua and the Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk in Jedda. Each will share a purse of around £33m. This is not the first time and in a previous post we pointed out the human rights problems in Saudi to which Joshua gave a less than satisfactory answer.

Readers of this site will not be unaware of the many posts we have published concerning the dire human rights situation in Saudi. Mass executions including one of the largest ever of 81 men in one day in March. The use of torture is routine, children are not exempt and Mustafa al-Darwish was executed last year. Trials are in secret and often little more than rubber stamping confessions produced following torture.

Only today 19 August 2022, there was a report of a Saudi woman given a 34 year sentence for using Twitter. A terrorist court has imposed the sentence on the Leeds University student who has a mere 2,500 or so followers.

Saudi activities in Yemen also should be mentioned with bombing of non military targets commonplace. British and US arms including aircraft are used in these missions and British personnel – including RAF personnel – are in place to ‘advise’ the Saudis.

In an effort to sanitise this reputation, MbS has embarked on a programme of sportswashing which has included golf, boxing, tennis, F1, horse racing with the worlds richest prize. Even chess is supported. Money has also come to Newcastle United football club. According to a report by Grant Liberty, a massive £1.5bn has been spent on this sportswashing. And the money works with little sign of the hundreds of sports people being the least bit concerned about the country they are competing in. The sports pages are full of their endeavours with facile interviews of the stars. Beheadings? Torture? Mass executions? Yemen? No women’s rights to speak of? None of it seems to concern our sporting heroes so long as the money is right.

Sources: Amnesty, The Guardian, Grant Liberty

Risk of execution – Saudi


Mohammed al-Faraj’s hearing was postponed  so he remains in prison in Saudi Arabia at risk of the death penalty. Mohammed was only 15 years old when he was arrested outside a bowling alley in Saudi Arabia. That was in 2017.

The fifth anniversary of his imprisonment is coming up.  He has endured five years away from his family. Five years away from his friends. And five years at risk of a death sentence.

When Mohammed was arrested, he was beaten, kicked and shackled with his arms above his head for up to four hours at a time. The Saudi Arabian authorities forced him to sign a “confession”.

The so-called “crimes” Mohammed committed included going to his uncle’s funeral when he was just nine years old. 20,136 people in this community signed the petition demanding Mohammed is not executed. Sending a message to Mohammed today will let him know we’re still fighting for him.

Will you let Mohammed know we’re thinking of him and fighting for his freedom?

Link to message

Repost from Reprieve

Formula 1 in Saudi


Can nothing stop the F1 circus?

Despite the enormous scale of death and destruction taking in place in Yemen by Saudi Arabia, the F1 Grand Prix still took place there (Saudi).  The Saudi regime is desperately keen to use sport as a means to whitewash its appalling human rights record.  Not only is it causing misery in Yemen but it has recently executed 81 people in a single day in Saudi itself almost certainly after torture was used to extract confessions.  Executions are usually carried out by beheading. 

There was a time when sport was confined to the back pages of newspapers or at the end of news bulletins.  It was about sport itself with reports of competitions, league tables or medals won.  The use of sport to promote nations has a long history and in recent times we have seen enormous sums spent by regimes to secure medals at the Olympics.  Recently, the notion of ‘sports washing’ has become established with Saudi Arabia a prominent player.  In addition to boxing promotions, golf and Formula 1, it has poured a huge sum into Newcastle United football club

A recent edition of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, CAAT, newsletter (Issue 262) provides an update on the destruction in Yemen.  In November, the UN estimated that 377,000 will have died.  This would be the total to the end of 2021.  Unfortunately, they say, ‘the escalating death toll and overwhelming evidence of repeated breaches of international humanitarian law have done little to curb the arms dealers: to them it represent a business opportunity’.  Since the bombing of Yemen began in 2015, the value of UK sales to Saudi Arabia amounts to £20 billion.  Further details and background can be found on the Mwatana site.

CAAT reports that the UN failed to renew the mandate in October for the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen following intense lobbying of council members by the Saudi regime.

Saudi Arabia

Human rights infringements continue in the country itself.  Critics of the government or ruling family are routinely jailed.  Prejudice against women and the LGBT community is practised.  Many people are executed in barbaric fashion after wholly unsatisfactory trials.  Reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty provide further details.

No impact on F1

None of this seems to have an impact on Formula 1.  It is interesting to note however that, following the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, the F1 race due to take place in Sochi this year was quickly cancelled.  It seems truly bizarre that they were able to act with great speed following the Ukraine invasion but prolonged death, destruction and egregious human rights abuses in Yemen and Saudi has not made any impression.  Could it be the considerable publicity the war has attracted and the actions being taken against Russian oligarchs meant that any attempt by F1 to carry on as usual was simply not possible?  Whereas, what is going on in Saudi and Yemen only rarely makes it onto the front pages thus enabling them to carry on with business as usual. 

Saudi is spending billions on its campaign to improve its image and holding various sporting events and some sporting authorities seem immune to what is going on.  It seems as though the lure of money – and lots of it – is too great.  They exist, as one commentator puts it, in a vacuum.  Perhaps we should not be too surprised at F1’s flimsy approach to human rights when its former boss Bernie Ecclestone was interviewed on Times Radio defending President Putin as an ‘honourable man’. 

Sources: HRW; Amnesty; Daily Express; Guardian; al Jazeera; BBC

Saudi executes 81 in one day


News that Saudi Arabia has executed 81 people in one day has shocked the world. Where or how is not known but the usual method is beheading. It surpasses the 63 executed in one day in 1979. So much for the reforms Mohammed bin Salman was supposed to be introducing.

The dead were unlikely to have received a fair trial. They would almost certainly have been tortured into providing confessions. Saudi television said that those executed had ‘followed the footsteps of Satan’.

The executions brings into sharp focus UK relations with the regime. Saudi is our biggest overseas buyer of weapons many of which are being used in the war in Yemen. While our news media is giving wall to wall coverage of the war in Ukraine, the bombing of Yemen hospitals, clinics, weddings and other communal events gets scant coverage. Tens of thousands have been killed, including many children, and cholera is endemic.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, is due to visit the kingdom in the next few days to try and increase the supply of oil. One wonders if the executions and the outrage they have caused will feature in the discussions. A Reprieve action urging Johnson to cancel his trip is here. Saudi Arabia has invested in Newcastle Football Club.

A report by the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights report on this can be accessed here. This organisation has been added to our list of contacts to be found at the bottom of the page.

Good news – Saudi


It is not often we get to report good news from Saudi Arabia on the human rights front but we are pleased to report the release of Dawood al Marhoon from prison where he has languished since 2012. He was arrested aged 17 following the Arab Spring protests in 2012. He was condemned to death in 2015 which may have been carried out in public by beheading and crucifixion. Many people from Amnesty and via Reprieve have signed petitions and it has been announced that he has been released.

Saudi death sentence imminent


This is a repost from Reprieve

Hassan al-Maliki could be sentenced to death on Monday 31 January. His crime was  “owning books”, “publishing books” and “publishing tweets”.  Hassan peacefully expressed his opinions on religion and called for a more open society. His only crime is that his views aren’t shared by Saudi Arabia’s ruling elite.

In 2018, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman promised that Saudi Arabia was changing and moving away from its use of the death penalty.  But the fact is, Hassan is facing death for something that never should have been considered a crime. Mohammed Bin Salman is trying to silence those that disagree with the status quo. That’s why this community is speaking out for Reprieve clients in Saudi Arabia.  And now, we’re supercharging the campaign for Hassan.

Hassan was arrested on September 11, 2017. No warrant was shown and he was locked up for a year without charge or trial. His detention and the charges brought against him violate his most basic rights.

On Monday, regardless of the outcome in Hassan’s hearing, we will continue to fight for him and for all those who face injustice around the world.

If you want to take action, please go to the Reprieve web site for the link.

Saudi Arabia: Don’t execute Abdullah al Howaiti


Abdullah was 14 years old when he was abducted by Saudi Arabian authorities in 2017. He was tortured until he ‘confessed’ to crimes he couldn’t have committed. He has several alibis—he was at the seafront 200 km away, playing football with his friends, at the time of the alleged crime.

Abdullah’s conviction was overturned in November 2021. This should be good news, but under Saudi Arabian law there must now be a retrial. That’s why we can’t stop fighting now. 

Saudi Arabian authorities say that they ended the use of the death penalty for child defendants in April 2020. But this is clearly a lie—Abdullah is a child defendant. We’re holding them accountable and making sure the death penalty and his so-called ‘confession’ are off the table. 

Thousands of us in the Reprieve community are helping build a huge swell of public attention and demanding that UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss steps in to protect Abdullah. Will you help too?

If you would like to take part follow this link to the Traidcraft site.

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