To establish which washing machine is the best on the market, the various brands compare their ability to remove stains, the noise they make, the energy and water they consume, the speed of their cycles, the gentleness with which they treat fabrics, and whether they achieve a temperature high enough in the time required to kill germs. And with all that data in hand, consumer groups deliver the verdict, with opinions for all tastes.
When deciding which is the best product available to dictatorial countries, with questionable human rights records, that discriminate against women and are accused of murdering journalists and dissidents, and even encouraging international terrorism, if it is who want to clean up their international image and have access to investment markets, the consensus is that the Premier League it has very few competitors. To describe the concept, a new English word has been created: sportswashing , which could be translated as “sports wash”.
The English League is increasingly used as a weapon of ‘soft power’ to wash the image of the states
The operation for the purchase of 80% of Newcastle United by the Government of Saudi Arabia through the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of that country, for 360 million euros, has been frozen, at least for the moment, in view of the objections of the Premier clubs, led by Liverpool and Tottenham. In the background are rights abuses, torture, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Riyadh’s role in the Yemen war and its attempt to isolate Qatar. But the pretext, not to enter geopolitics, has been the alleged piracy by the Saudis of the television rights of English football in the Arab world, which the Qatari company beIN Sports has.
Until now, the Premier has never stained its hands in global geopolitics, giving the green light to the acquisitions of its clubs by American tycoons (Manchester United and Liverpool), Russian oligarchs (Chelsea), Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi (Manchester City) , or Saudi prince and businessman Abdulah bin Mosad (Sheffield United). But being openly part of the project Vision 2030 of the Government of Riyadh, consisting of using sport to improve its image, attract foreign investment and diversify its economy with an emphasis on tourism and financial services, has caused too much irritation.
At the risk of being described as prudes, those responsible for the Premier have delayed the certification as suitable of Mohamed bin Salman (to whom human rights groups attribute the ultimate responsibility in the murder of Khashoggi), until the Saudi investment fund he has withdrawn the offer from the table, feeling that it would not be approved and preferring to avoid this humiliation. Newcastle fans are furious. What happens in the Persian Gulf matters to most members a damn, in order to get rid of the current and unpopular owner Mike Ashley, and to be able to sign as City, Chelsea, United or Liverpool.
Within the strategy of sportswashing o sports facelift, the emir of Qatar owns Paris Saint-Germain, official matches of Spain and Italy have been played in Saudi Arabia, as well as the fight for the scepter of heavyweight boxing between Andy Ruiz and Anthony Joshua, major horse races, cycling and wrestling competitions, and the Yida Marathon. On the calendar there is also a Formula 1 Grand Prix, and of course the Qatar Soccer World Cup 2022. Sport is soft power par excellence, a weapon to establish a sentimental contact with millions of fans, face socio-cultural challenges, protect oneself from the political instability of the region and mitigate economic risk by transferring funds offshore. Clubs are not just businesses, but social institutions, a huge added value.
Football, even if it tries to avoid it, cannot escape geopolitics, and in this case it has been seen in the middle of the rivalry in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and its satellite emirates on the one hand, and Iran and Qatar (broadly speaking) on the other, projected in the military field to the conflicts in Yemen and Libya, and in sports to the television rights of the Premier that the Qataris have, and the projection that the World Cup will mean in two years. Sheikh Mansur of Abu Dhabi already owns the City. The Premier has for the moment put the brake on Saudi prince Mohamed bin Salman from taking control of Newcastle, another classic. Riad will have to find another washing machine.