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Is Newcastle United’s Saudi takeover morally questionable?

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I’ve been grappling with the Newcastle United fanbase on how I view a Saudi takeover of Newcastle United.

Russia v Saudi Arabia: Group A - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Pool/Getty Images

Some of you may remember, because I received a lot of negative feedback from fans, that I wrote an article critical of Mohammed bin Salman and his rumored takeover of Newcastle United. The rumors died down, and so did my criticism of the attempted takeover. Now that everything is coming together, I am once again grappling with the moral situation that many fans believe it should be easy to cope with.

The Mirror just ran an article calling the Saudi prince’s takeover “immoral” and that it “reflects badly on football.” Full disclosure: I agree with these comments. Another full disclosure: I am happy for Newcastle United to be sold to an owner that will inject investment into the club’s success.

Football today has become a vehicle for political PR. And what concerns me the most is that so many people don’t think twice about it, or they attempt to say that they just separate the two. I get it. You care about your football club and what is best for your football club. So do I. We shouldn’t be attacking those who actually are taking a second look at what this takeover means for the club. Sure it means more investment in the city, and I would never take that away from those who live in Newcastle, but the money is coming from a government seeking to cover up its misdeeds, human rights record, corruption. And no matter where I lived, if that sort of investment was coming into my city, I would be skeptical, regardless of whether it benefitted my football club or not.

Can we also take a step back, and understand that I’m not slagging Newcastle United fans in the slightest for their support of the takeover? I support the Newcastle United takeover as much as the next guy, but I am also attempting to take a serious approach and understand just who it is buying the club. We as fans cannot allow our club to be used a PR vehicle to cover up human rights abuses, the murder of journalists, and human trafficking. In fact, we are going to find ourselves in a unique position within the coming weeks.

Sports has always attempted to position itself as the apolitical pastime. You cannot politicize sports, at least, that’s what we were told when we were younger. My favorite part about attending sporting events is I don’t know the political views of the person sitting in front me, next to me, or behind me, and we’re all getting along either way. Sport should be a reason for me to escape the political shortcomings of this world. Sometimes, I need to clear my head after watching the news and getting headaches and stressing myself out over how annoyed I am at the people I watch every day.

I try to escape things like Saudi Arabia’s corruption, murder, and human rights record for a handful of hours by watching teams like Newcastle United play.

What are we to do when our vehicles for escape become vehicles for the politics we’re running from?

So to answer my original question: is Newcastle United’s Saudi takeover morally questionable?

Yes. Yes it is. But this isn’t a Newcastle United only issue, it’s a football issue. Hell, it’s a sporting issue. Apolitical sports are becoming avenues for political enrichment, and fans aren’t batting an eye. You can tell me that this is happening throughout the Premier League by telling me about Sheffield United, Manchester City, and Chelsea, but then you’re just missing the point. Each and every one of these owners are immoral. That’s what me and my contemporaries are getting at.

Southampton FC v Newcastle United - Premier League
Mike Ashley is set to leave Newcastle United after thirteen years of ownership.
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

What hits me hard is this line from the article in the Mirror:

“And the general theme was, ‘We don’t give a flying you-know-what because we’ve gone through hard times over the last 13 years under Ashley, so all that other stuff is irrelevant...What about Sheffield United, they are part owned by Saudis? Or what about City, this club or that club?’.”

Our hard times under Mike Ashley are nothing compared to the hard times that these owners have inflicted on people in their own countries. It is such a first world problem that our hard times are our teams performing badly. A hard time for me, is going to class and finding out that I didn’t do well on a test. Do you realize the irony in these statements?

Your hard time is that a pastime of yours isn’t going as planned, even though millions throughout the world don’t even have the luxury of being able to see that pastime. My hard time is school, which even fewer people around the world have the luxury of being able access.

Again, this isn’t a Newcastle United only issue. It’s a football issue. As fans, we’re going to be in a unique position where I feel we will be obligated to speak up when the moment arises. We can’t just assume complacency because we’re getting what we want. It’s going to be on us to highlight that we’re not oblivious Mohammed bin Salman’s behavior. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.