Leaked photos that allegedly show new shirts for English club Newcastle have sparked a heated controversy that has resonated with Arab countries, while human rights activists have criticized the “Saudi money”. What is the story of those shirts and what is Saudi Arabia’s relationship with them?
Last October, the Saudi Public Investment Fund announced the purchase of English club Newcastle United, following a long battle during which the Kingdom knocked on various doors in the world of football.
The Newcastle purchase agreement at the time was greeted with anger by a number of human rights organizations, as some saw it as an “attempt to politically polish Saudi Arabia’s image.”
Newcastle Reserve “Saudi”?
It appears that the controversy over Saudi Arabia’s acquisition of one of the major English Premier League clubs will not end any time soon.
British press reports reported that tweeters had leaked photos on the internet that the English team was on its way to launch a new set of shirts similar to the Saudi national team’s uniform, known for its green and white colors.
The BBC was unable to independently verify the authenticity of those photos. We also tried to get a comment from Newcastle FC’s management, but received no response to this letter.
The photos distributed show white shirts with the Newcastle logo with green sleeves and collar, which made them look very similar to the Saudi shirt of the national team.
Although the English team will retain its traditional black and white shirts as a basic outfit, British newspapers have reported that the team will be wearing the white striped green uniform during the matches it will play outside its stadium.
Newcastle have never worn shirts of this color.
It seemed that the sole purpose of choosing these new designs was to increase the club’s revenue after the shirts were sold in the Kingdom, but many saw the issue as other dimensions.
“These are just shirts that do not deserve all this controversy,” a Newcastle fan commented on Twitter.
But what some see as a natural step that falls within the club’s marketing strategy, other commentators see as “a clear attempt to use football to polish Saudi Arabia’s image and its record of human rights violations,” as they put it .
In this context, Amnesty International’s British campaign chief Jacques Felix criticized the use of Saudi money in sport.
He continued in a statement to a journalist ‘ The Guardian: If the news of the English club choosing an outfit similar to the Saudi national football team shirts is confirmed, it will be clear proof that the kingdom is exploiting the club to improve its reputation.
Felix added that it would “refute all their previous assurances of separating the sports club and its Saudi owners.”
While Arab commentators see the association of football clubs with government agencies as a destruction of the sport itself, others celebrate the “success of Saudi soft power in promoting a new image of the queen, which has long been on the minds of some with Wahhabism” be associated. ”
Saudi Arabia has invested in “sports diplomacy” by sponsoring many local and international sports competitions and clubs.
The acquisition of Newcastle United is one of the biggest investments Saudi Arabia has made in this area.
And about a day ago, Majed Al-Soour, chief executive of the Saudi Golf Association, was appointed a member of the club’s board of directors.
Al-Sorour will join Yasser Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Saudi investment fund, which owns 80% of the English club’s stake.
As part of the sports policies used to market the image of the “New Kingdom”, Lionel Messi, the star of the Argentine national team and Paris Saint-Germain, was appointed as an ambassador for tourism in the Kingdom on Monday.
For the past several years, the chairman of the Entertainment Authority, Turki Al-Sheikh, has been trying to organize international soccer and sporting events within the Kingdom.
Among them are the Spanish Super Cup and the Italian Super Cup hosted by the Kingdom in 2019.
In the same year, Turki Al-Sheikh managed to buy the Spanish club Almeria, which competes in the second division of the Spanish League.
As innocent as these Saudi movements may seem, observers warn against using them to advance Saudi foreign policy and to divert attention from the ongoing war in Yemen and the restrictions imposed on freedom of the press in the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is notsolitary
A fan of sports and entertainment affairs will notice that Saudi Arabia’s steps have come late compared to neighboring countries.
Qatar is considered one of the first Gulf countries to pursue sports diplomacy, insofar as it has allocated a division for this file within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With this, Qatar has secured the hosting of the 2022 World Cup. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, president of Qatar Sports Investments Company, managed to buy the French club “Paris Saint-Germain” and strengthened its ranks with some of the brightest football stars.
The case is not much different in the UAE, which preceded its Gulf counterparts in this area.
In 2008, the Abu Dhabi Investment Group, owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister, acquired the English club Manchester City, which quickly changed from a weak club with big debt to one of the most important teams in Europe. has.
And to market the Emirates “Etihad Airways”, the English club named “Etihad” at its own stadium.
The impact of these investments in sports is reflected in the image of the Gulf countries. Sometimes we hear the supporters of those clubs chanting the names of those countries, and other times voices arise rejecting the use of football to manipulate people’s perceptions and whiten the image of governments.
Here some ask the question whether these massive investments are aimed at changing the European idea of the region and developing close cultural and economic ties, or is it purely politically motivated?
There are many examples of foreign countries that have chosen to enhance their image and attract tourists through the shirts of international clubs.