Newcastle United may be bought by Mohammed Bin Salman, architect of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. As long as clubs remain a commodity for their owners to profit from, they will always be owned by these gangsters.
Just as night follows day, the onset of the transfer window is always, it seems, followed by new rumours of a takeover at Newcastle United. This has been a constant recurrence since January 2018, when Amanda Staveley was last rumoured to be buying the club. Two years later and she is back, but this time with a marked difference – she supposedly represents a consortium backed by the real estate magnates the Rueben brothers and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
The latter of these two sources of funds has proved particularly controversial, with Amnesty International having released a strongly worded statement the day after the news broke, slamming the potential acquisition as “sportswashing, plain and simple”. Indeed, it’s a fact which has sat uneasy with many Newcastle fans. Though eager to move on from a decade of austere ownership under Mike Ashley, Jim White’s claim on Talksport that Bin Salman “has the deepest pockets in the world. The deepest pockets of the lot, and this could be an amazing situation for Newcastle United” is tainted by the recognition that these deep pockets belong to a man who, as the leader of Saudi Arabia, is guilty of a multitude of human rights abuse.
It is probably easier to list abuses Mohammed Bin Salman isn’t guilty of. Saudi Arabia restricts democratic rights; persecutes minority groups (particularly Shia and LGBT+ individuals); arbitrarily detains political opponents; tortures detainees, and commits public and extrajudicial executions. Perhaps worst of all, in their role as a regional imperialist power in the Middle East, they are responsible for what Oxfam calls “one of the world’s gravest humanitarian crises” because of their war against the Houthis in Yemen.
Human right abusers
It’s clear that Mohammed Bin Salman is a nasty piece of work, to put it mildly. But this begs the question, when Premier League clubs collectively spent £1.41 billion on transfers in Summer 2019 (just £0.2 billion shy of the record set in 2017), is there any individual rich enough to own a football club in the present day not guilty of human rights abuses?
Take Newcastle’s current owner, Mike Ashley, who runs Sports Direct like a Victorian workhouse: employees are put on casual contracts and paid less than minimum wage, and there are reported cases of casual workers being coerced into giving “sexual favours” for the promise of a permanent contract. The “six strike” policy employed by Sports Direct, where staff can be sacked for six offences which include lateness, long toilet breaks, and swearing, not only gives management immense power over workers, but also led to an infamous case where a member of staff gave birth in a toilet in the Sports Direct warehouse because she thought she’d be sacked if she called in sick. As if this isn’t enough, staff are further humiliated when they are subject to searches when leaving work. A report from the Business, Innovation and Skills committee said that staff at Sports Direct were “not treated as humans”. Are these not human rights abuses that Mike Ashley has presided over?
What about Tony Bloom at Brighton? He amassed his fortune by developing online betting companies before moving into property development. Gambling is an industry that preys on addiction. Though there isn’t anything to suggest otherwise, it’s doubtful that Mr. Bloom offered one of the properties he developed to one of the many individuals made homeless by the gambling he has helped to facilitate. And what of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, Farhad Moshiri at Everton, and Maxim Demin at Bournemouth? These individuals have made their millions (billions, in the case of Moshiri and Abramovich) from oil, petrochemicals, and energy. Add to this as well Abdullah bin Musa’ed, owner of Sheffield United and the Saudi Paper manufacturing company. These individuals have shamelessly enriched themselves without a thought to the role of these industries in accelerating climate change – surely endangering the existence of the entirety of humanity is the worst human rights abuse of them all?
Filthy rich capitalists
This isn’t to downplay the horrors that Mohammed Bin Salman is responsible for. Rather, it’s to highlight that as long as football clubs are a commodity for filthy rich capitalists to toy with, they will always be owned by reprehensible individuals.
Instead of targeting this or that owner for being unethical, we must damn the entire set-up. Football clubs are an integral part of their local communities and are ultimately nothing without their fans. It should be these fans and these communities who own and run their clubs in the interest of the people, not wealthy individuals who try to turn these local institutions into profitable investments.