OLIVER HOLT: Newcastle’s Saudi ownership is a flagrant and shameless effort to launder the injustices of an oppressive nation with blood money and the tribal loyalty of English football fans
- Newcastle’s owners want fans and media members to focus on the football
- Criticism of the regime is not welcomed – including satirical banners from rivals
- Crystal Palace fans produced a factual list of injustices on a banner recently
- A Newcastle fan complained but the police rightly threw that complaint out
Newcastle United, like Basil Fawlty, do not want you to mention the war. That would be, specifically, the brutal war being waged in Yemen by their owners, Saudi Arabia. Nor do they wish you to mention Saudi Arabia’s war on free speech. Nor Saudi Arabia’s war on men and women whose sexuality offends the state.
In fact, when it comes to the wars that they do not want you to mention, you can take your pick. There are plenty to go around.
Newcastle do not want you to mention the beheadings executed by their owners, either. Nor do they want you to mention the civil rights abuses. Nor the murders, like the assassination of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was cut up into pieces with a bone-saw on the orders of Newcastle’s new owner, Mohammed Bin Salman. Nor do they want you to mention the censorship. Nor the persecution.
Saudi Public Investment Fund chair Mohammed bin Salman has come under intense criticism for his country’s attitudes towards gay people, the war with Yemen and freedom of speech
Crystal Palace fans produced a banner listing injustices by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment fund – which drew a complaint to the police for it being offensive to Newcastle’s owners
Crystal Palace fans mentioned it – all of it – before their game with Newcastle last Saturday and someone, presumably an outraged Newcastle supporter, complained about it to the police. That gave everyone a good laugh. Complain about a banner that highlights injustice but tie yourself in knots to excuse the oppressors who own your club.
Some Palace fans in the Holmesdale Road Stand had displayed a banner that depicted a man, dressed in garb branded with the letters ‘PIF’ to denote the Saudi Public Investment Fund, about to swing a sword and behead a magpie. The Premier League was present at the execution in the form of its chief executive, Richard Masters, who was standing in a pool of blood.
The banner hit the target. It was a brilliant piece of satire and the Holmesdale Fanatics deserve our applause for it. When others, including many media outlets, have already enthusiastically joined in the process of sportswashing that is Saudi Arabia’s overriding goal in its ownership of Newcastle, the banner proved once again that many English football supporters, thankfully, are not awfully good at being compliant.
Why the complainant thought their accusation had the slightest chance of success is anybody’s guess. The banner was a factual list.
Newcastle’s owners behead people, murder people, suppress people, oppress people, censor people and persecute people. There is not even an argument about that. Unfortunately for those who feel squeamish about their owners being depicted like this, we haven’t banned free speech in this country yet. The police wasted little time throwing the complaint out.
The banner conveyed a message that neither Newcastle nor the Premier League nor many of our broadcasters want to project. They want us to forget about who owns the club now and get on with salivating over whom Newcastle might sign. Sky have led the way in this. Their reporters in the North-East have fallen over themselves in their fawning to the Saudis and their welcome to a regime that murders journalists.
Martin Tyler, Sky’s lead commentator, said Newcastle had won the ‘ownership lottery’. That took the breath away.
If you really think celebrating the arrival of a murderer at one of our best-loved clubs is winning the lottery, I’m not quite sure where we go from there. I suppose, as Joey Barton would say, ‘it’s the modern-day world we live in’.
The decent majority of Newcastle fans are already discovering that the riches of their new owners have arrived at a considerable cost.
Wealth attracts a new breed of supporter, the kind that follows the money because it thinks that money brings glory and power. And they like to boast about their owner’s wealth and Saudi Arabia’s policies as if they are their own.
A ‘Justice for Jamal Khashoggi’ banner was seen outside Newcastle’s St James’ Park stadium for their first game under new Saudi ownership against Tottenham Hotspur recently
So last week, a journalist from The Athletic, who wrote a brilliant report about the situation faced by the LGBTQ minority in Saudi Arabia and spoke to many who have suffered under the regime, found himself the target of a giddy new type of Newcastle troll. One tweet, purportedly from a Newcastle fan, featured an animated sequence in which a man machine-gunned a group of gay men.
Imagine the surprise, then, when Newcastle responded enthusiastically to the statement from Adelaide United player Josh Cavallo last week revealing that he was gay. Prominent current and ex-footballers around the world proffered their admiration and support for Cavallo and Newcastle joined in.
‘A powerful and inspirational message,’ the club Twitter feed said. ‘Football is for everyone. Newcastle United is right with you, Josh.’
Right with you? Really? Right with you because the club owners reserve the right to kill gay men and women for practising their sexuality? Right with you because the club owners preside over a country where consensual same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the offence?
Right with you because a young gay man, Suhail al-Jameel, a social media influencer, was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2019 merely for posting a picture of himself without a shirt on social media and is believed to be still languishing in prison.
Newcastle United tweeted their support for footballer Josh Cavallo, after he came out as gay
So the ‘right with you’ sentiment is nice and maybe it will do some good. But the unavoidable truth is that it feels false. It feels cynical. It feels manipulative. It belongs in the same vicinity as the Premier League promoting their Rainbow Laces campaigns and then rolling out the red carpet for a regime that criminalises homosexuality. It is something done for show. It is something done to obtain an advantage. It is empty. In fact, it is worse than empty.
Forgive me my cynicism but when your owner reserves the right to kill men and women for being gay, it is difficult to reconcile that with the club praising a man for saying he’s gay. It doesn’t compute. On any level.
Except if it’s done for sportswashing. Except if it’s done to make Saudi Arabia look better and take attention away from policies that are unpalatable in most of the rest of the world.
Call it sportswashing. Call it pinkwashing. Call it what you want. But know what it actually is. Know that it is a tawdry, flagrant, unscrupulous, shameless attempt to launder the injustices of an oppressive nation with blood money and the tribal loyalty of English football fans.
If that analysis offends you, if the banner at Selhurst Park offended you, it is because you can’t handle the truth.
Manchester United took to social media to come out in support of Paul Pogba last week
TAIL WAGS THE DOG AT UNITED
Manchester United’s official Twitter account took a break from being a Cristiano Ronaldo fan site last week to fall in line behind Paul Pogba when he accused a newspaper of peddling fake news about his relationship with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
‘Strength in unity,’ the United account grovelled, a sentiment greeted with hilarity by those who have become accustomed to Pogba’s frequent and ill-disguised flirtations with rival clubs during his under-achieving time at Old Trafford.
Manchester United, a club where the tail wags the dog.
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