There has been a lot written and recorded already about Newcastle United, my geographically-closest Premier League football team, and the rival of the team I actually support (Sunderland).
I am certainly sympathetic to the idea that individual people should live their values. But there has to be a line drawn somewhere. For example, I really like the music of the artist Morrissey, yet I think some of his politics and other views are distasteful and problematic.
Likewise, when the sovereign wealth fund of a foreign power provides your football team with untold riches, why shouldn’t you celebrate? While I’d love to live in a world where fans own football clubs (see AFC Wimbledon) as the article points out, this purchase needs to be placed in a wider narrative around Brexit and widening inequalities in society.
You might expect that this would be controversial in Newcastle. This is not any old country buying an English soccer club. It is a country run by the man the United States concluded to have ordered the dismembering of a journalist, a country conducting a brutal war in Yemen that is among the most barbarous in the world.
And yet, few in Newcastle seem to care. I mean, why should they? Their rivals in the English Premier League are already owned by some pretty unpleasant regimes or people: Manchester City is controlled by Abu Dhabi, and Chelsea by a Russian oligarch with ties to the Kremlin. What’s the point in turning down someone’s money if nobody else is? The fixer who facilitated the Saudi takeover has, incredibly, insisted that the Saudi state was not taking over Newcastle’s soccer club, but rather its sovereign wealth fund, which, the fixer said, genuinely cared about human rights. Both, of course, are run by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Beyond this cynical piece of performance art, however, the Newcastle United sale is emblematic of something far more fundamental and depressing about the state of Britain.
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