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Newcastle United takeover – Sportswashing 2

1 month ago
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Over recent days, I’m going to guess everyone reading this will have consumed mass amounts of media about the seminal news to have emerged from NUFC, as the Newcastle United takeover that Simon Jordan and many clever sh.tes from The Mag’s comments section assured us was dead as a dodo revived and went through at incredulous speed.

Some of you may even have been lucky enough to catch me, or one of my fellow NUFC supporting rent-a-gobs, speaking to various national media outlets about the whole situation, or more specifically the human rights record attached to the Saudi regime at the head of this Newcastle United takeover.

When the Newcastle United takeover first looked likely over a year ago, I wrote a piece on sportswashing and how we should feel, so I’m not going to retread old ground as it has been discussed at length.

I also believe that most people share the balanced, nuanced view that the KSA has many issues that go against most people’s personal morals, but the degrees of separation involved mean it doesn’t prevent you supporting Newcastle United, even so far as the raw elation that has greeted this immense change in status.

I think the thing that has become apparent over recent days to me (other than how blindsided we’ve been by being installed as the moral arbiters of major world events) is that there are two approaches needed for two different groups.

Firstly, there are people who have devoted their life to addressing wrongdoing, or who have at least delivered a consistent message on the developing role of KSA in the world. It’s important I think to respect their taking a stance for decency and at the very least have a reasonable discussion.

The point of validity I don’t think outsiders always grasp is the enormous social and community impact a transformed NUFC can have, with the wider impact on the city. Business investment in the area will brighten prospects, growth in the local economy will increase quality of life and yes, a successful team with a sense of pride and ambition will give the people of Tyneside a collective lift.

This doesn’t level out against the widespread human rights issues, but I feel that some challenging the response to this Newcastle United takeover fail to understand how inextricably linked this club is to the people here, and asking for opposition to this is asking people to eschew potential life changing positivity to themselves and those close to them.

This is why comparisons with Disney, Starbucks, Facebook etc and their similar links to Saudi are more than valid, despite the lazy dismissal of “whataboutery”. Yes, these investments are less direct, but they’re also linked to life’s luxuries. No one’s local community would suffer if they all cancelled their Disney+ subscription.

Of course this is mitigation, not a full rebuttal. People that have consistently looked to address cruelty and injustice in the world should at the very least be given the platform for discussion and not subjected to knee jerk abuse. As a Man City fan said (in The Mag’s review of MCFC comments on this takeover) we need to grow a very thick skin because this is not going away, this debate is here year on year. Being d.cks to the good guys will not help us.

Secondly / Alternatively, there are the second set of people. The Groucho Marx set if you will (“these are my principles and if you don’t like them, I have others”).

Basically, the clear and obvious swells of fans of other clubs (some from as low as League 1!) who are suddenly adopting a hardline moralistic approach in order to legitimise their existing hatred of Newcastle or as a conduit for pure, unadulterated jealousy.

Now it’s quite possible to be a huge fan of a particular football club and hold a strong view on Saudi human rights, but I suspect the majority of those in the TalkSport / Twitter echo chamber would not be consistent in their liberal views if you had a quick look through their social media history.

Over the days, this has developed into foaming, blustering insistence that 7 wins from 37 games Bruce is doing a great job, and that United fans have been astoundingly harsh on the man who spent £125 million to take the team from 12th place to 12th place before eyeing up second bottom. None of these gobsh.tes would even remotely entertain Bruce as their own club’s manager, yet I swear I’ve seen hearty defences from fans of 18 other Premier League clubs, with the exception of Villa who have actually had to endure the cabbage themselves in recent history and cannot even joke about it.

As we approach the opening game of the new era, I have seen two stark examples of both of the above.

First, Adam Crafton, a journalist from the Athletic has pulled together an article of LGBTQ+ people’s experiences living in Saudi, with some horrific accounts provided anonymously by people living in fear. As a result, the author has been inundated with abuse, some of which will doubtless be from Newcastle fans new and old. This is the kind of conversation we need to understand and try wherever possible to influence, not engage in a pile-on that lends weight to the negative argument.

Second / Conversely, as they laboured to a late win against bottom of the table Peterborough, Middlesbrough fans held up a banner aimed at NUFC, suggesting we have sold our morals along with our club. I wonder how many off those writing “f.ck  NUFC” would actually stand up for the oppressed and the injustices on a daily basis outside of this Newcastle United takeover, and I wonder how many of them embrace uncompassionate, homophobic or simply apathetic views on world events? The conversation with these types should be non-existent, or if you must, two words long.

Hopefully, today we can talk about, and enjoy (!), the football. That’s my approach going forward and the international diplomacy can get back to Westminster.

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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