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Opinion

Sportswashing and Newcastle United

8 months ago
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As part of the recent lockdown boredom, I have binge-watched a Netflix show called the Good Place.

This is an American comedy where some recently deceased people find themselves struggling with a supposedly idyllic afterlife that turns out to be a convoluted version of Hell managed by Ted Danson from Cheers.

As the show progresses, it turns out that nobody has made it into Heaven (the titular “Good Place”) since the 15th century, because it has become so difficult not to have some tenuous contact with evil. People living otherwise good lives contribute to evil regimes via the source of their furniture, the fertiliser company who helped produce their veg etc.

All of it subtle variations on the theme that you are likely reading this on a device produced in atrocious conditions in a Chinese sweatshop. Unethical corporations control so much of the world that it is impossible not to make some degree of peace with the fact that you need their sh.t to survive.

Anyone still here has probably made the connection where I’m heading here, as this site is indeed about Newcastle United, not Netflix recommendations. With our imminent takeover largely funded by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, there are set to be very few degrees of separation between NUFC and some of the world’s worst atrocities.

I won’t go in-depth about the treatment of women and homosexuals, or the situation in Yemen, because anyone wanting to do further research can quickly and easily find an article about sportswashing (the Saudi attempts to put an acceptable front on their regime through sports and entertainment) from one of the journalists or online warriors, who have chosen the acquisition of Newcastle United as the breaking point at which they had to speak out about this.

If you’ve missed all of this, the gist is a call on our collective conscience to basically be ashamed of how gleefully we’re celebrating this turn of events. Yes, Mike Ashley is a rubbish person but substandard working conditions in a first-world country are incomparable to genocide. So how exactly should we be responding?

I will tell you how I’m going to do it.

I am a left-leaning person and wholeheartedly against the practices for which the Saudi regime are accused of. I will never accept it as OK just because they own my club and if there was a major stand taken by other world powers to right a few wrongs I would support this, even if it was detrimental to the cause of NUFC.

However, I am still bloody elated at what is happening because, as unsavoury as it may be, I have made my peace with the fact that I am too far removed from the wealthiest, biggest organisations on planet earth to influence them in the slightest. In the same way I’m not about to chuck my iPhone out the window, I am not about to conceal my glee that Newcastle United are set to take a serious footballing step up.

If there is serious investment in our club over the coming years, it means more than just online bragging rights.

The development of facilities and expansion of the club in the community will mean jobs and prosperity for the region. The wider success of the team would see a heightened profile, leading to more tourism and investment in the area. Quality of life up here would improve in a way that the current ruling party of our own country has done little to advance down the years.

Also, you know what? That tangible air of happiness that you feel in the air here whenever the team are doing well would maybe just cheer everyone up that little bit. I want my kids to take joy and happy memories from the time they are watching their team, not drudgery and misery brought about by a sense of loyalty. This is supposed to be our escape after all.

So, to anyone suggesting we temper our behaviour, I would ask this

Please tell me what the right, ethically sound response should be to this news? Should we act to sabotage the injection of positivity to our reason because of means way beyond our sphere of influence? If so, how? Also, these people of ill-repute were welcomed open-armed to both our government HQ and royal palaces as recently as 2018. Perhaps lobbying of the occupants of these more southerly locations might have more clout in terms of influencing a worldwide change of heart.

I would also like to point out that many of the sports journalists rushing to file copy on this, will have surely cashed cheques from the morally bankrupt Sun post-Hillsborough, or worked for Robert Maxwell perhaps, or even the Independent since it became owned in part by…guess who? – the Saudi Arabian state investment fund.

This will likely be dismissed as ‘whataboutery’ (the latest phrase used by boring, beaten people in the same vein to ‘living in your head rent-free – yawn) but I would say it’s all perfectly valid exemplifying of the fact that this type of attachment is all around us, from the iPhone to the I Paper.

The Premier League long ago became a cash hungry behemoth that propelled itself into this type of world. Let’s not pretend that with this takeover we are faced with the first clear case of something rotten. This is far from black and white.

What is black and white, is Newcastle United, and I am going to enjoy the journey we are headed on regardless of the compromise of conscience.

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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