Posts Tagged ‘NUFC’


Contrasting positions by footballers and supporters

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week, there have been several photos in the sports pages of groups of kneeling footballers forming either circles (Liverpool) or an H (Chelsea) in support of black rights in the USA.  They are expressing their outrage at the killing of a black American by allegedly over aggressive policing and restraint, which led to Floyd’s death, the latest in a series of black people who have died at the hands of the police.

At the same time – as we have written before – the Premier League is currently debating the sale of Newcastle United Football Club to a consortium funded by Saudi interests to the tune of £300 million.  The litany of human rights abuses in that country are many: torture is common; women’s rights are highly restricted; the death penalty is frequently used, often in public and by beheading, and amputation is practised as a punishment for certain crimes.  There is no free speech and religious persecution is carried out.  Whatever one may think of heavy-handed policing in the USA and the problems over race in that country, it comes no way near the grim state of affairs in Saudi Arabia.  In addition to the human rights abuses there is the war being waged by Saudi in Yemen which is causing immense misery and suffering.

Despite this, supporters of NUFC are overwhelmingly in favour of the transaction taking place.  A poll showed 97% in favour of the sale.  This partly because the current owner – Mike Ashley – has failed to adequately invest in the club and the supporters want the club to do better.  The Premier League is currently debating the sale of the club and the sole consideration, as far as their statements are concerned, is whether broadcasting rights have been infringed:

Qatar broadcaster beIN Sports has also accused the Saudi Arabian government of facilitating the piracy of Premier League football rights in the Middle East through broadcaster beoutQ, although there is a long-running diplomatic row between the two countries.

Saudi broadcaster Arabsat has always denied that beoutQ uses its frequencies to broadcast illegally and has accused beIN of being behind “defamation attempts and misleading campaigns”.  Source: BBC

Newcastle fans bristle at the suggestion that they should not accept such tainted money.  They argue that the issues has only achieved this degree of salience because football is in the public eye.  They point to the sale of arms by the UK and USA governments with little concern for the use they are put or the misery and destruction caused.  They also point to other investments by the Saudi regime in the UK – Uber taxis, or the Independent newspaper – which haven’t received similar negative publicity.

When the widow of Adnam Kashoggi, who was murdered by the regime in Turkey, asked Newcastle to reflect on the funding and not to take it, she was rewarded with some unpleasant trolling on Twitter.

But the contrast is quite stark.  On the one hand an outpouring of sympathy and support for the death of an innocent man in the USA, and on the other, avid support for a takeover by a terrible regime committing far worse acts on its citizens who seek to purchase a football club as part of its sports wash programme.  Quite why there should be this disparity of interest is hard to say.  Possibly sharing the same language so that information from America flows around the world quickly.  The presence of a free press there will be another factor.

If we in the UK – including football fans – could see what is going on in Saudi, if the women were allowed to speak and mobile phone footage of public executions widely circulated, then it is to be hoped their views might be different.

Jonathan Lieu, writing in the New Statesman (22 – 28 May 2020) argues that fans have craved the departure of Mike Ashley and not prepared to get too squeamish about who might replace him.  He says the dissatisfaction with Ashley is not to do with his zero-hours contracts or compromised labour rights, but more to do with his parsimony and failure to splash out some of his wealth on the club.  He argues that the fan’s behaviour and attitudes to the deal –

… is an admission of where the fans sit in the order of things.  Shorn of any real influence, deprived of any meaningful stake in their club, shut out of their stadiums for the foreseeable future, perhaps it is no wonder that some many have simply plumped for the path of least resistance and maximum gratification.  New Statesman p40

This may be so.  But just as important is the power of money in this sport.  Success – other than a fleeting cup run – is almost entirely dependant on huge investment to enable the purchase of top players.  Since investment in football is a risky venture from a financial point of view, the big money comes from people with big egos to support or who are using the sport to launder a reputation.  The desire for success and the need for big money feed on themselves.  Any moral qualms are trampled under foot.  In that, the supporters share with the UK government – whose desire for money from weapons sales – lack any consideration for human rights or the plight of those in Yemen.

Sources: BBC; Premier League; Guardian; New Statesman; aljazeera


UPDATE 22 JUNE

WTO ruling puts sale of the club to a Saudi backed investment vehicle in doubt.

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.