On October 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, stepped into Istanbul’s Saudi consulate to obtain documents that he needed for his marriage. A seemingly innocuous task for the writer, he stepped inside, likely not knowing the fate that awaited him through the doors.
It was the last time that Khashoggi was seen. His body was never recovered, likely being disposed of by being burnt in an oven.
Khashoggi’s assassination was orchestrated by the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The reasoning behind this was likely to silence a well-known dissident of the Saudi regime, as Khashoggi was the author of numerous columns that were critical of the Saudi government.
For reference, Saudi Arabia is responsible for numerous human rights violations and the oppression of certain demographics within the country.
Per Human Rights Watch, the kingdom knowingly discriminates against Muslim minorities, namely being the Shia and Ismailis. LGBTQ rights are nonexistent, with punishments that include fines (if you’re lucky), chemical emasculation, public whipping, life imprisonment and death. It wasn’t until 2017 that women were allowed to receive an education or medical care without the approval of a guardian.
Criminal punishments can still include beheadings, stonings, firing squads and even crucifixion.
The Saudi Forces are also accused of several war crimes in Yemen.
All of this is being done under the reign of Mohammed bin Salman.
Now, where does Newcastle United fit into this equation?
The Tyneside club is set to be purchased by the Saudi Royal Family in a £300 million takeover. It is expected to be complete next month. The Newcastle fanbase has long suffered under the blind guidance of Mike Ashley, and many are welcoming this news with open arms.
That is exactly what regimes want when conducting these takeovers.
This is the act of sportswashing. As defined by MacMillan, sportswashing is “when a corrupt or tyrannical regime uses sport to enhance its reputation.” This is something that we’re already all too familiar with in the beautiful game.
The City Football Group, owners of Manchester City, New York City FC and numerous other clubs around the world, is owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates. PSG is owned by the Qatari government. Governmental agencies in all of these countries are major sponsors of clubs like Roma, AC Milan, Real Madrid and numerous others. All of these are examples of sportswashing in the game.
This is dangerous, as it shields the world from the atrocities happening in the country of the owners. The practice associates the name of these places with the successes of the clubs as opposed to the human rights violations. And what better way to do that than by buying into the world’s most popular game?
Money is needed in the sports industry, it’s an unavoidable truth. But at what point is the line between the need for profit and the morality of the situation drawn?
This is a question that the authorities at FIFA, the FA, US Soccer and administrations around the world need to be asked. As sportswashing becomes more prevalent, at what point does it stop? At what point do we tell those who torment people, at home and abroad, that their money isn’t good enough? At what point do the lives of innocent people become more important than the dollars lining our bank accounts?
In closing, I leave with a quote from the late Jamal Khashoggi.
“We should not need to be reminded of the value of human life.”