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Opinion

‘Arsenal a far better example of successful sportswashing than Newcastle United’

2 months ago
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As a Newcastle United fan, I’m used to certain words always being used when other people talk about our club and its supporters.

The likes of deluded, demanding and difficult…spring to mind.

We can now add another word to that list, sportswashing.

Sportswashing is supposed to be where a regime tries to present a positive image through sport and draw attention away from its own wrongdoing.

You would have to say that by these criteria the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United is not a good example of sportswashing, as instead of drawing attention away from the human rights issues in Saudi Arabia, it has had the opposite effect.

If you wanted to see more successful examples of sportswashing, then you would be better off looking at some of other clubs in the Premier League.

There are a large number of clubs that accept sponsorship and investment from regimes that are guilty of human rights abuses, or from individuals or organisations that have links to those regimes, yet this is very rarely, if ever, talked about.

When Newcastle United recently played Chelsea, I saw a number of comments from neutral fans saying that they would be rooting for the Blues because, presumably, they saw an owner with close links to the Putin regime as ‘the good guy.’

In fact, you’d have to question whether the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United really is an example of sportswashing at all.

In a previous article in The Mag, one of our contributors with connections to the Middle East, said that the Saudi takeover wasn’t about sportswashing, but was rather an attempt by the Saudi regime trying to diversify its economy and to move away from its dependence on oil revenues.

When we play Arsenal, no doubt there will be more comments about sportswashing directed at Newcastle United and its fans, whilst ignoring the sportswashing going on elsewhere in football, including at Arsenal.

One of Arsenal’s major sponsors is the Rwandan government and the logo of ‘visit Rwanda’ appears on their shirts and in the background during interviews.

According to Human Rights Watch, political opponents of the Rwandan government are often tortured, killed or simply disappear.

This is before we get into the ethics of transferring money from a comparatively poor country like Rwanda to a far richer country like the UK (Arsenal receive over £10m per year due to their Rwanda deal and the sponsorship agreement was recently renewed).

I don’t think we should ignore the human rights issues in Saudi Arabia but if this is now going to be something we regularly talk about in football, it’s got to apply across the board and not just to one club.

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