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On Papiss Cisse and the Wonga Sponsorship

Chris Brunskill

When Newcastle United first announced in October their shirt and stadium sponsorship deal with payday lender Wonga, worth a reported £24 million, the Muslim Council of Britain was one of many groups and individuals to speak out against the company and their controversial practices. (The Independent) The MCB strongly suggested that the club's four (now three) practicing Muslim players refuse to wear the Wonga name on their shirts, opining that their business model is a form of usury, which is forbidden under Sharia law. According to The Mirror, it now appears that forward Papiss Cisse is considering the possibility of following through on that recommendation.

As Jim noted in his coverage of the story when it first developed, there is precedent for a player wearing a shirt with no sponsor because of his religious convictions, so this seems like a legitimate possibility, if indeed the report is true and if Wonga agree to exempt him. Wonga have so far nailed the public relations side of this arrangement. They restored the former glory of the St James' Park name, they give shirts away to people who say nice things about them, and they astutely ignore the criticism levied against them, except when they're dutifully directing people to check out the carefully crafted testimonials on their website. It's not hard to imagine that they might play along with Cisse, allow him to play without the big blue quote bubble on his chest, and maybe even make a token donation to the MCB or a similar organization.

As for Cisse, the tinfoil-behatted portion of the fanbase appear to be convinced that he is either angling for a move away from Tyneside, a terrible Muslim because he didn't object to Virgin Money, who also profit on interest payments, or some combination thereof. It's an entirely unfair reaction. I find it difficult to believe that a modern football player would go to this length to engineer a transfer move when all he has to say is some variation of "I want to play in Europe," and I find the criticism of any perceived inconsistencies in regard to the practice of one's religion invasive and unnecessary. If Papiss is indeed uncomfortable with the arrangement, I would hope that the team (and therefore the fans) would be accommodating, if not for the respect of his basic rights, then because he is an important player who represents a significant investment.