Inclusion, equality and simply doing the right thing has taken a back seat in a Premier League approved takeover of Newcastle United and football should be ashamed

(it isn’t often on here I will verge away from tennis but in this case a sport I have followed for years (football) this is something I can’t keep silent on)

Once again we have seen Football sell itself to the highest bidder but this one sits uncomfortably more than any others.

‘PIF’, the Public Investment Fund of the Sovereign State of Saudi Arabia chaired by their Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman recently completed a takeover of Newcastle United. This was approved by the Premier League despite an atrocious human rights record but the Premier League wanted assurances that the Saudi State would not be involved in the running of the club which they were given. With the Crown Prince at the helm of PIF I don’t see that as something that can be given as a guarantee.

This takeover is a kick in the teeth to people of Saudi Arabia as well as communities/fans in the UK and abroad.

There are movements in football through respect campaigns and for example the Rainbow Laces campaign to make sport more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community.

As part of the LGBTQ+ community myself and a big football fan I feel let down. I’m not a Newcastle United fan but I’m not comfortable watching the Premier League support the wonderful Rainbow Laces campaign (in December) when a clubs owners sentence LGBTQ+ people to beatings, fines and prison.

How will that look? A club being bankrolled by a state run investment fund by a country which has an appalling human rights record and people over there can’t leave their own lives. At the same time the players will wear a rainbow badge, rainbow laces and a few more banners will be dotted around the stadium supporting the LGBTQ+ community when money at this club is coming from a country where homosexuality is a crime.

Football should be embarrassed.

Discrimination should have no form of existent in society or sport but you cannot run and support campaigns to stamp it out and then take money from a wealthy country that goes against this.

I’m not just disappointed with the Premier League but with Sports Broadcasters and a statement from a Newcastle supporter group.

Sports Broadcasters have touched on it and that’s it, I use the phrase ‘touched on it’ but it has just been ‘there are concerns about their human rights record’ without elaboration.

On Soccer Saturday a couple of weeks ago they opened with their segment on Newcastle with saying:

“We are of course very aware there is opposition to the takeover due to the Saudi Arabia human rights record it’s an issue that has been covered over the last couple of days on Sky Sports News and will continue to be covered in the days ahead as well, but in the purpose of our conversation and this program we’re going to focus purely on the football side of things.”

Great, I get there is an excitement and optimism about and for a ‘on the pitch’ talk but why should the off the pitch take the back seat? What message are we sending out? Do they care about the campaigns they support, where is the vocal voice on their shows?

There just seems to be an acceptance for people to just say ‘there are concerns about their human rights record’ and move on.

Credit where it is due to Monday Night Football on Sky who were discussing the wider issues as I was writing this and the message this takeover sends.

There is still soo much work to do in sport and society for LGBTQ+ community, minority groups and women but this feels like a massive step back.

There has been some big pushes from human rights groups in criticism of this takeover but the silence from the top of the Premier League is a problem.

A statement was released by the Newcastle United LGBT supporter group called United with Pride following the takeover. I don’t support Newcastle but this bothered me, I support inclusion and equal rights and if that doesn’t sit with the player or the team I support you have to vocalise it and this statement was poor. 

A word stood out and that was the word “could” – “the engagement and investment in international business and sport under the ‘Vision 30’ programme could be viewed as an opportunity for decision makers in Saudi Arabia to witness how other cultures treat their minority groups”

Will it be? It should be, what if ‘could’ doesn’t happen? As a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself if it came out that nothing improved for people in Saudi Arabia I couldn’t sit there as a gay man and watch my team with comfort and enjoyment. The statement went onto say…

“There is potential to be a positive influence to improving the conditions for the LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Recently the country relaxed some laws for Women, which can be seen as a reflection of international influence.”

It’s got ‘potential’, I don’t want ‘potential’ I want a guarantee. This should be a major part of a take-over being approved by the Premier League what message does this send?

There is more to the statement which you can read on the link above but it is very much the case of accepting the takeover and not much thought or outrage on the wider picture. You can’t just say ‘it has potential’ and ‘the country has recently relaxed some laws for women’ and that’s it. I totally get it is an exciting time for the clubs fans but beliefs, rights and what is right should not take a backseat for some cash.

Suhail al Jameel

It is only right that we continue to raise awareness of Suhail al Jameel. He is currently in prison in Saudi Arabia for being gay. Suhail is 25 years old and has been subject to over 800 lashes in prison as part of his punishment.

He was imprisoned for posting a shirtless photo on Twitter in 2018 but was released early before being arrested again 2019 and is now in a political prison.

PIF, the company/investment fund that has taken over Newcastle. PIF’s chairman is Mohammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Six Saudi Arabian government ministers are on the board for PIF.

The Premier League approved this take-over.

They should hang their heads in shame.

As per The Athletic, the Premier League, PIF and Saudi UK Embassy were given the chance to comment on Suhail’s status but declined.

Football – Respect campaigns, inclusion and standing up for what is right!

Rightfully football does and will continue to do a lot of work for respect campaigns and equality for everyone in sport. However it is hypocritical, you can’t support inclusion and then welcome money from those who go against these values.

“For the game. For the world” – FIFA’s motto

“#EqualGame” – UEFA

“Being for everybody, everywhere. Being easy and open to work with. Listening as well as talking” – Premier League’s Statement of Principles.

Good words, very good words but don’t pretend to care because at the end of the day the money talks.

Football is a sport that I love and has provided me with some of the most amazing and also disappointing memories. Sadly over the years it has sold its soul to the highest bidder and recently the Premier League approved takeover of Newcastle United.

  • The World Cup in Russia where LGBTQ+ fans were advised not to hold hands.
  • A World Cup in 2022 in Qatar where homosexuality is illegal and could result in Prison or the Death Penalty
  • Qatar World Cup where workers conditions and safety have led to hundreds of deaths
  • Saudi Arabian led takeover of Newcastle United despite concerns over rights of women, LGBTQ+ and human rights.

Remember though:

“For the game. For the world” – FIFA’s motto

“#EqualGame” – UEFA

“Being for everybody, everywhere. Being easy and open to work with. Listening as well as talking” – Premier League’s Statement of Principles.

Football is more than what happens on the pitch, it’s the impact it has off it and communities it must protect and support.

I would even throw in the Brazil World Cup in 2014, a picturesque setting for a major event but billions spent for four weeks. Not long after the stadiums were left empty, running up bills no one could pay and communities in the neighbourhood are living in poverty and being reminded of wealth.

Stadiums became abandoned, used to store buses when that money could’ve been distributed better. “For the game, for the world”, right… have these countries and the communities benefited? Sadly not.

8th of December

On the 8th of December it is Stonewalls Rainbow Laces campaign and as ever I will support it and wear those colours with pride. There will of course be that push from the Premier League and Broadcasters that week of fixtures where captains will wear a rainbow armband, players will put on their rainbow laces but remember that members of the LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia can be either fined, beaten in public, imprisoned and in some cases the death penalty for wanting to live their life.

Right now I ashamed to be a fan of football. This isn’t about who you support, I couldn’t care less. It is about what is right, we all want success but at what price, at the price of someone else’s basic human rights?

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