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.

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.

Good news from Saudi


Loujain al-Hathloul released today

It is good to report that the Loujain al-Hathloul was released from prison in Saudi today (10 February 2021).  Amnesty and other human rights groups have campaigned on her behalf for some time following her arrest, imprisonment, including time spent in solitary confinement.  She alleges being tortured in prison which included the use of electric shocks, flogging as well as being sexually assaulted.  These allegations are entirely believable since torture is routinely practised in the kingdom.

Loujain was one of the campaigners arguing for allowing women to drive, which they now can do, but this did not absolve her from arrest.  Her sentence has been suspended and she is not allowed to talk about her time in prison or to leave Saudi.  If she does so, she faces being rearrested.

Two events might have combined to achieve this result.  A concerted campaign by human rights campaign groups to secure her release has led to continuous bad publicity for the kingdom and for Mohammed bin Salman.  The arrival of President Joe Biden who is noticeably cooler towards the kingdom and has already suspended arms sales is likely to have been a factor.  However, Grant Liberty is among those arguing that pressure must continue to secure other releases of people held in prisons after spurious trials.  They point out that the country still carries out arbitrary arrests; people are tortured; there are many executions; children are treated as adults by the courts; women’s rights are ignored; there is no free speech and human rights organisations are banned in the country.

Sources: Grant Liberty, al Jazeera, the Guardian

Human rights activist faces lengthy jail term in Saudi


The human rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, faces a lengthy jail term in Saudi Arabia for advocating the right of women to drive a car and for campaigning for the end of the male guardianship system.

In 2018, she was abducted and arrested for defying the ban on women driving and for her campaigning against the male guardianship system.  She was held for many months incommunicado, and in prison was beaten, sexually assaulted, tortured with electric shocks and waterboarded.  Human rights groups, including Amnesty, and the UN Human Rights Committee, have urged for her to be released.

The latest news is that at a hearing in a terrorism court, the judge said the sentence would be announced on Monday.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman claimed when he first assumed power, that he would reform the justice system in that country.  There has been little sign of that since with arrests of opponents, routine use of torture, harsh crackdowns on anyone opposing the monarchy and widespread use of the death penalty.  He faces little pressure to change however, with the UK and other western countries all too ready to fawn over the prince in their desire to secure lucrative arms deals.  Astonishingly, the UK government was active behind the scenes in securing a place for Saudi on the UN’s Human Rights Council.

See also the Grant Liberty website.

 

Saudi women still in gaol


The women who campaigned for women to be able to drive in Saudi still in gaol

ACTION TODAY WEDNESDAY 24 JUNE

Next week marks two years since women in Saudi Arabia were finally granted the right to drive.

As part of his Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is working hard to be seen as the moderniser of Saudi Arabia, introducing a number of social reforms.

Meanwhile, thirteen Saudi women’s rights activists remain on trial for peacefully campaigning for the same reforms, including the right to drive.  Five of them are still behind bars – including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada.

We’re asking our supporters to take action together this Wednesday 24 June – the day women were granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia in 2018, while these women’s rights defenders were locked up in prison charged with, among other things, “promoting women’s rights”.

Please share this horn graphic on social media with the following message:

I stand with #Saudi women rights activists who fought for the right to drive. It’s shameful they were locked up for demanding equality. Join me & @AmnestyUK calling on @KingSalman to release them & drop all charges: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/beepforfreedom #BeepForFreedom CC @SaudiEmbassyUK

Thank you!

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