Sports washing is a term that explains little and obscures everything


To say the least, a lot has been done about the takeover of Newcastle Untied.

After 14 years of discussing the revival among ourselves, I think we all agreed that one day, once that was done, we could finally stop talking about it.

Sadly, thanks to national media and Newcastle United’s 80% stake from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, this has not been the case.

Amnesty International, along with a host of hypocritical domestic sports journalists, have said that the takeover of Newcastle United is being used by Saudi Arabia as a tool to “cleanse sport” from its human rights record. It couldn’t be further from the truth. What is true, however, is that sports washing is a term that explains little and obscures everything. Believe it or not, the concept itself is nothing new, if you go back to the 1936 Olympics in Germany…

Before continuing, I found the following passage in a Guardian article some time ago that I think is worth ‘setting the scene’:

“Here is an interesting circular equation. Manchester United currently face Paris Saint-Germain in two Champions League matches. Paris Saint-Germain belongs to Qatar. Qatar are also sponsoring Bayern Munich and Roma and have a “foundation” project with Real Madrid.

Real Madrid is sponsored by the Emirates airline of the United Arab Emirates. Another emirate, Abu Dhabi, owns Manchester City. Manchester City take on Schalke, which is sponsored by Gazprom, which is owned by Russia, which is indeed at war in Syria with Qatar, which is blocked by Dubai, which is a financial services partner of Manchester United, whose next opponents will be Paris Saint-Germain, owned by Qatar. This is about where we entered.

Confusing, isn’t it? If only there was one figure who could stand above it and wade through this confusion of interests. For example, Nasser al-Khelaifi, the new member of the UEFA executive committee.

Khelaifi is also president of BeIn sports, which pays UEFA for its television rights to the Champions League. UEFA is investigating allegations of financial fair play violation by PSG. Where he is, continue, club president.

Do you get the point?

It is an ignorant and borderline racist Western attitude to assume that Arab countries are doing things to “please” or “appease” us … as if Arab countries are in dire need of our approval. I mean, who do we think we are? This somewhat bizarre attitude is based on the assumption that foreign investment in sport, or hosting sports competitions, should only be granted to countries with a track record of human rights. First of all, you would have to ask yourself if such a country exists – Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark maybe? Maybe Germany? After that, we cling to straws. Needless to say, our own country, which supplies weapons to various illegal wars around the world, is by no means free from guilt.

But who wants to hear that? Not the average football fan. Basically we just want to watch football and support our team.

The countries of the Arabian Peninsula have effectively used foreign investment for a long time.

How do I know what I’m talking about? Well, after nearly five years of studying Middle East Studies, earning two degrees, writing two theses on PIF investments in Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman’s desire to achieve the goals set out in Saudi Vision 2030 , spent four years studying Arabic. , worked in the gulf, made friendships in Saudi Arabia, and to this day having clients and friends in the country, I have a sense of what’s going on and why things are happening.

Rather embarrassingly, it just happens to be the only thing I know anything about.

Much of the irony of the rhetoric over the past two weeks is that everyone seems to be an expert on what’s going on in Saudi Arabia, with almost zero knowledge, or at least commentary, on the national stage. in Saudi Arabia.

Since King Salman took the throne in 2014, multiple work programs, visions, initiatives and more have been introduced to address the country’s internal issues. For example, the government’s goal of creating 1.8 million jobs directly or indirectly by 2025 – with the country’s Sovereign Fund, the PIF, being used as the primary vehicle to address this problem. Of course, the domestic situation in Saudi Arabia, with few jobs, high unemployment, growing inequalities and a low standard of living among a huge population (compared to its neighbors) has been exacerbated by recent declines. oil prices and Covid-19.

However, the main objective of the PIF has not changed. That is, not to “hide Saudi Arabia’s human rights record”, but to remedy fiscal stabilization, introduce a manageable macroeconomic program, develop capital and financial markets. , improve Riyadh’s own banking system and essentially digitize the country over the next decade.

Transforming Saudi Arabia’s private sector into a growth engine is integral – this comes with investments in sectors around the world where Saudi Arabia can be globally competitive – sport, including boxing and F1, being one of them.

Lazy journalism and individuals pursuing their own simplistic agendas have placed unnecessary and, in most cases, false emphasis on the role foreign policy plays in FIP investments. In cases where foreign policy plays a role in PIF investments, I’m sorry to tell you, it has nothing to do with us. Instead, it can best be described as a regional game in which the Gulf States are motivated to invest in a global business or industry if that prevents a regional rival from expanding its influence in a certain sector – with football being at stake. again the perfect example with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. having long outperformed Saudi Arabia in this market.

I repeat, investing on behalf of sovereign wealth funds is always a reaction to the market – and not to Western views on human rights violations.

Owning a football club is a strategic and financially motivated decision, designed to improve not only the financial centers from which the clubs originate, but also to strengthen the sport in Riyadh, and to establish financial centers and commercial links with regions in strong potential. What the sport also gives you is the ability to market other ‘lagging sectors’ to a global audience – UAE and Qatar have used this tool to market almost perfectly with Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways – now arguably the three most reputable airlines in the world.

Huge investments in global companies like Facebook, Twitter, SoftBank, Disney, etc. – and the subsequent purchase of Newcastle United, is just another step in Saudi Arabia’s plan to diversify its economic resources as it moves away from its dependence on petrochemicals. It should also be noted, and a close friend in Saudi Arabia told me, that SWFs invest in Western companies not for ulterior motives of covering up human rights abuses, but because these companies offer a “low risk, non-regulatory environment only found in Western markets.”

The financial benefits of these investments are not used to cover human rights violations, but rather to reinvest in Saudi Arabia with various projects, including Qiddiya City, NEOM, Red Sea Project and the metro stations in Riyadh and Jeddah (albeit with varying degrees of success so far) already underway.

It goes without saying that our government and world leaders must do much more to tackle human rights violations in Saudi Arabia – without free speech, increased executions, unjust practices of discrimination against women, religious discrimination, treatment of migrant workers, and worst of all – the plight of the LGBT community in the country. Being owned by Saudi Arabia is by no means something to be proud of. I implore our government and local MPs to address these issues at every opportunity.

However, the argument that Arab countries are investing in sports teams to provide “cover” for human rights abuses could not be further from the truth – in fact, I would even go there no doesn’t exist at all for what people think it is.

Saudi Arabia has not bought Newcastle United so Western journalists can give them a pat on the back and say “Oh, well done, you are a good boy, I forgot all about your human rights violations” .

Saudi Arabia has bought Newcastle United and continues to invest in various sectors globally, as building relationships around the world goes hand in hand with increasing foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia – which then goes on to expand. hand in hand with the growth of the economy, the country and Saudi Arabia. society far from dependence on petrochemicals and towards a better future.

I encourage all of us to remember, it’s not always about us, you know.

You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @jonnyinsg


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