Archive for the ‘sport’ Category


Strong local support for the Saudi investment

In a previous post we discussed the possible purchase of Newcastle United Football club by a consortium using Saudi funds.  The consortium wishing to purchase the Newcastle Football club using Saudi money from their sovereign wealth fund is receiving strong local support.  The local newspaper the Newcastle Chronicle has run several pieces discussing the various moves and bidding in the saga.  A poll shows overwhelming support for the purchase:

The Newcastle United Supporters Trust has thrown its weight behind the potential takeover of the club after publishing a survey of members which showed overwhelming support for the buy out.

A Trust survey has found 96.7% of their members are in favour of the proposed takeover by Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners, along with the Reuben Brothers and the Saudi Arabian PiF.   Mark Douglas, Chronicle, 25 April 2020

It is the comments pieces which are most revealing however.  Supporters are passionate about their club and want it to do well, understandably so.  They do not take kindly to doubts expressed by Amnesty or others about the wisdom of the take over.  One writer sums up the situation well;

It would be hugely hypocritical and financially damaging if the government (which deals in billions of pound worth of arms with the Saudi’s) were to step in and put a stop to this deal going through. Why should NUFC be forced to act as a deterrent to the Saudi human rights. Organisations such as amnesty international (sic) and the UN have been unable to enforce any legal obligation on the Saudi’s so why should a football club be expected to do so.  Both Amnesty and the UN should be able to enforce a political solution, and not try to use NUFC as leverage. We won’t be the first Premiership club to be owned by Saudi’s or another middle eastern domain, non of whom have good Human Rights reputations. I cannot believe for one minute that the government would have any legal right to block this deal and the FA have allowed other clubs to be purchased by Saudi’s previously so they have already set a precedence.  NEWCASTLE500

He or she has a point.  Saudi is the largest purchaser of arms from the UK.  Royalty and a succession of ministers and prime ministers have paid court to the Saudis so why should NUFC forego a huge injection of cash when the government is obviously keen to do so?  On 26 April 2020 it was revealed that the UK government has increased arms sales to regimes with a poor human rights record.  Two wrongs do not make a right however. The British government is so ensnared in arms sales to Saudi that to stop would cause enormous damage to our arms industry and to our balance of payments.  Small wonder the minister, Oliver Dowden, wants to keep well away from the problem.  They Work for You reveals he generally votes against human rights and has voted for the abolition of the Human Rights Act.

If the Chronicle’s survey results reflect what people in Newcastle think, it is truly depressing.  Is the only consideration the success or otherwise of their football club?  The coverage also sought the opinions of past players who were also said to be enthusiastic.

Reading the Newcastle Chronicle pieces one would gain only small hints of the human rights situation in Saudi or what they are doing in Yemen.  The pieces discuss the ins and outs of the deal largely to the exclusion of all else.  If supporters read more of the nature of the money they are so keen to get their hands on, would they react differently?

Football has become enmeshed in money.  Without huge budgets, no team can hope to win titles or afford to buy the best players.  Has the desire for success and prestige corrupted the game?  As Kate Allen, director of Amnesty put it:

The Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the Premier League to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the global footballing community.

A classic example of sports wash.

 


Plans by a consortium funded by Saudi Arabia to purchase Newcastle United come under attack

Anyone who has followed the Yemen conflict or is the least bit aware of human rights around the world, will know of Saudi Arabia’s dismal record on this front.  For five years they have waged a brutal war in Yemen leaving the country a wreck and many thousands dead.  We have frequently described their activities in previous blogs on this site. Their bombing of civilian targets is a disgrace as is the process of what is called ‘double tapping’ that is, circulating round after an attack on a hospital, school or wedding, and returning for a second round of bombing to kill the rescue workers.  That the RAF is involved in this activity – supposedly ‘advising’ the Saudis – is a stain on the UK’s international reputation.

Their human rights record is appalling.  Torture is common and confessions extracted using the process used to justify executions.  Death by beheading in public displays are the norm.  Women’s rights are severely restricted despite the promised reforms.  Human rights activists are regularly targeted and of course there is the murder of Adnam Kashoggi who was almost certainly dismembered after his death by Saudi personnel.

Now they want to purchase Newcastle United football club via the Public Investment Fund chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the sum of £500m is mentioned in a deal.

Kate Allen, Amnesty’s Director said:

Amnesty UK director Kate Allen said in a separate letter to Masters [chief executive of the Premier League]: “So long as these questions [about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record] remain unaddressed, the Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the Premier League and the global footballing community”.

She suggests that Newcastle fans to familiarise themselves with the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia before the deal goes ahead.  For many fans, their chief desire is to see a new owner to replace Mike Ashley, the current one.

Saudi Arabia has been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to improve its image and using ‘sports wash’ is part of that plan.  The sums of money are huge and it appears that sports people are unconcerned at the source of the money or how tainted it is before accepting and cashing in the cheques.

The country is the major overseas purchaser of our arms exports.  Royalty have been frequently pressed into service as part of the charm offensive.  Unsurprisingly, the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden MP said it was a ‘matter for the Premier League’ and the government is unlikely to intervene.

Football is big business and the sums paid to players and their transfer fees can be stratospheric.  Players are hugely influential and many young people see them as heroes.  Although players are not involved in this transaction directly, they will ultimately benefit from it financially.

To quote Jonathan Lieu writing in the Guardian:

And so, welcome to the new orthodoxies of English football.  Saudi Arabia is good.  Amnesty International is bad.  New signings are more important than murder, broadcast rights more important than women’s rights, and a basic sense of humanity is ultimately expendable if you can scrape into next season’s Europa League.  It’s a manifesto, to be sure.  Just don’t expect anyone with a scintilla of decency to feel warmly about it.  (23 April 2020)

Sources: Guardian, BBC, CNN

 


In a previous post we mentioned the case of Anthony Joshua, the boxer and the fight which took place in Saudi Arabia for which he received a multi-million pound purse.

Human rights groups were critical of his decision to fight there and said it was an example of Sportswash: using sport to try and sanitise a dubious regime. In the case of Saudi this involves executions by beheading; floggings; imprisoning opposition people, lawyers and human rights workers as well as their appalling bombing activities in Yemen.

Lo and behold, within days of this happening and the criticism which it produced, Joshua turns up on the Graham Norton Show on the BBC. This is a show which features actors and celebrities of various kinds who come on to promote their activities and seemingly have a good time. Joshua came on to great acclaim and was variously embraced and fawned over by the other guests. Joshua himself said at the time of the fight that he did not know about Amnesty as he was too busy training but one suspects that Graham Norton, his producers and production team know and must have been aware of the furore surrounding his fight in Saudi. Not a word was said about this.

So what do we call this? Is it Sportswash? The BBC has come in for an increasing amount of criticism for bias and to some extent this is understandable during an election. This is not bias however, it is simply not wanting to see. No doubt his promoters or PR people want to rehabilitate Joshua’s reputation – which took a knock – and what better than to parade him on a lightweight entertainment show like Graham Norton where no awkward questions were asked. But why did the BBC agree to this? Did the other guests know he was coming on and were they not concerned? If they were they did not show it with lots of kisses, backslapping and embracing – typical activity when celebs come together. We do not know of course if other potential guests were sickened by his presence and declined the gig.

So have the BBC been used as part of a plan to rehabilitate Anthony Joshua’s reputation?  Is what is happening in Yemen and Saudi of so little interest to the BBC that inviting this man on for our entertainment matters more than the suffering of people in those two countries?

 

 


Arsenal football club embroiled in an embarrassing human rights dispute

The UK’s Arsenal football club became embroiled in an embarrassing and potentially expensive dispute with the Chinese authorities this week concerning the statement made by one of its footballers, Mesut Özil. The problem arose because Mesut, a Muslim, said on Instagram, concerning the plight of the Uighurs in China:

East Turkestan, the bleeding wound of the Ummah, resisting against the persecutors trying to separate them from their religion. They burn their Qurans. They shut down their mosques. They ban their schools. They kill their holy men. The men are forced into camps and their families are forced to live with Chinese men. The women are forced to marry Chinese men. But Muslims are silent. They won’t make a noise. They have abandoned them. Don’t they know that giving consent for persecution is persecution itself?

Sport, money, human rights, politics brought together in one place


Use of sport to promote interests of unsavoury regimes on the rise

The latest example is the heavyweight fight in Saudi Arabia involving Anthony Joshua.  The fight was approved by the WBA, the World Boxing Organisation and International Boxing Federation.

Readers of this site need no introduction into the unpleasantness of the Saudi Regime.  Its activities in Yemen we have featured many times on these pages.  With British and American support

Anthony Joshua (Wikipedia)

and armaments, it has carried out a bombing campaign in that country with little regard to international human rights law.  Schools, hospitals, wedding ceremonies and civilian areas generally have been bombed sometimes using what is called ‘double tap’ that is, going in for a second time when the aid workers arrive causing extra mayhem.

Human rights are low on the agenda with floggings, torture, amputations and executions the norm.  There have been 148 executions so far this year.  Women’s rights activists, lawyers and members of the Shia minority have all been targeted.  But never mind, there’s money to be made in them there dunes so lets go for it.

There has been a wide range of criticism of the boxer himself and the promoters, Matchroom Sport for taking the Saudi shilling for this event thus taking part in an attempt to sanitise the regime.  They denied the charge that they were sportswashing.

Never mind the stonings, public executions, or human rights, Eddie Hearn is more than happy to follow the money

Daily Telegraph, 16 August (Eddie Hearn is Joshua’s promoter)

What does Anthony Joshua himself say?  He is reported not to have known who Amnesty International was saying in a BBC interview that he spent most of his time in Finchley training.

I appreciate them [Amnesty] voicing an opinion.  And it’s good to talk about issues in the world.  But I’m there to fight.  If I want to put on my cape where I’m going to save the world, we all have to do it together.  The questions and the things that are happening in the world in general can’t be left to one man to solve.  We all have to make a difference.”

I’ve actually been to Saudi Arabia and I’m building a relationship,  Some of the questions that the world has to ask, maybe I could be a spokesman?  It’s a blessing and they can speak back.  And that’s relationship building, rather than just accusing, pointing fingers and shouting from Great Britain.  In order to ask questions, and people that may want to make change, you have to go and get involved.  Daily Telegraph 6 September 2019

Matchroom’s site makes only scant mention of the human rights aspect.  “We are an independent company of passionate individuals” it tells us on its site: presumably the passion is confined to sport.

Of course, Joshua is not the first and certainly not the last to be involved in the process of sportwashing regimes such as Saudi Arabia.  His ‘crime’ of agreeing to fight in the kingdom does not compare with the UK government’s support and agreeing to the supply of arms to this regime over many years.  Members of the Royal Family have been happy to get engaged with a fellow royal family.

The difference is that this fight will have been seen by millions hence the purse of £40 million that Joshua will earn (there are other higher figures).  Those millions of viewers are likely to be left with an impression that it is all right to engage with such a regime.  But they have been willing stooges in the process of trying to sanitise them and its attempts to make a comeback after the murder of Khashoggi.

Sport has had its fair share of scandals.  Doping, cheating, bribery: a seemingly endless stream of less than salubrious behaviour.  FIFA and the Olympics are replete with corruption.  To many, Joshua is a hero and on the sporting front he no doubt is.  But as a hero he has a responsibility, as do those behind him, to recognise the influence he has on followers.  Some day, the sporting fraternity are going to have to recognise the role they play in shaping people’s – particularly young people’s – minds and the influence they have.  And that may mean saying ‘no’ to performing in a country where women have few rights and are imprisoned for seeking them, where torture is a way of life, and hacking off heads and limbs part of the legal system.  Good way to earn £40 million.

Last word to Matchroom:

We got criticized for coming here but these people have been amazing. The vision they have for boxing in this region is incredible and they delivered.  [Accessed 8 December]

Sources: Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Amnesty


F1 race to go ahead despite widespread human rights infringements in Bahrain

All you need to know about Halo ahead of the 2018 F1 seasonSport is being used more and more to present a sanitised view of a country and to hide or obscure human rights abuses.  Russia with the Olympics and Qatar with the World Cup are both examples of dubious regimes using sport to enhance their image.  In the case of FIFA there is the issue of massive corruption within the organisation itself.

The latest example is Formula 1 and the race to take place in Bahrain.  The country has scant regard for human rights.  Arrests, unfair trials, the use of torture are all commonplace.  In 2017 the last newspaper was closed down.  In a previous blog, we highlighted a local firm in Porton (a village near Salisbury, UK) which supplies spyware to this regime.

As the US State Dept. said in a report on the country in 2017:

The most significant human rights issues [in Bahrain] included reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings by security forces; allegations of torture of detainees and prisoners; harsh and potentially life-threatening conditions of detention; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression, including by the press and via the internet; restriction of academic and cultural events; restrictions on the rights of association and assembly; allegations of restrictions on freedom of movement, including arbitrary citizenship revocation; and limits on Shia political participation.

Further examples of abuse of human rights can be found in a Human Rights Watch report.  Amnesty international has also produced a report saying similar things.

The F1 site itself claims to respect human rights issues in its policy;

  1.  The Formula 1 companies are committed to respecting internationally recognised human rights in its operations globally.

The problem is they do not.  Before races there is a severe clampdown in the area and protestors can be shot.  The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy is one of 15 human rights organisations to have written to F1 president Jean Todt calling on them to act in the case of Najah Yusuf who was imprisoned last year for criticising the regime on Facebook.  The response yesterday is not encouraging:

It’s quite easy,” he said. “We are here for a sport event, not for a political event. That means – first of all, I was surprised that there are still some political turmoil which I don’t think is the reality.

I think that the reality is just that a few people want to create troubles and Formula One is here to make sport, to entertain the people.  We should not be involved in any political questions.  This, people should do, who are here, who are living here. The government, whoever, that’s their job, not our job.  [Statement 30 March 2019, Our italics]

Which rather conflicts with its policy statement above.  It seems as though nothing a country does can stop the likes of F1 or other sporting regimes from carrying on their activities in a country with dubious or dire human rights.  As long as the money’s right …