Vladmir Putin bellowed that he “wanted to underline Fifa’s commitment to the principle of sports without politics,” ahead of the 2018 World Cup. He did so seemingly without a hint of irony. We are told again and again, without question, that football and politics don’t mix. We are told again and again, even still when the sight of a glitterati of political elites in our stadia, nowadays, is as commonplace as the burger van outside. Football is politics. Politics is football.
A football pitch is a microcosm of life itself. A commodity that has become a visual representation of society and a damning insight into the effect of financial disparity. Almost every major sporting event nowadays is plagued with political undertones, yet it still goes unnoticed, unscathed. Or perhaps we are just turning a blind eye to what we really know is there?
When Manchester City lifted the Premier League trophy on Sunday it wasn’t one of football’s glorious narratives, but a token of the infiltration of capitalism in the game. The vast money that has been pumped into the club in the last decade has seen the club wriggle away from the clasp European football’s financial fair play laws. Their response? According to Der Spiegel, to manoeuver carefully around the restriction they have turned to inflated sponsorship deals, an elaborate image rights scheme and hidden contracts. Increased income equals bigger spend. And that barely scratches the surface.
Amnesty International have claimed that Manchester City’s owner Sheikh Mansour is attempting to “sportswash” the club in order to restore his “deeply tarnished image.” One sponsor, ArabTec, brought in to brazenly cheat their way out of regulations, has been repeatedly criticised by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for poor treatment of migrant workers.
Abu Dhabi is known for its wealth and riches but nobody seems to question where the money goes and what is done with it. The country has been linked with an infanticide in Yemen, with City chairman Khaldoon Al Maburak connected with the war and arms trade and various power brokers behind the scenes – such as Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan – responsible for running secret prison camps in the UAE where, allegedly, torture is frequent.
But, as long as slick football is played and the biggest stars attracted to the Premier League, people are willing to normalise abhorrent wrongdoings in a strange state of denial. Though this is the very essence of sportswashing, and the very essence of why the political elite see football as a plaything. However, this is a plaything that has the potential to wipe clean dirty records of abhorrent abuses in the blink of an eye.
City have broken rules, whilst siphoning money from a source that gets darker the deeper you dig. People don’t seem to care where the money comes from in football as long as gets there, and governing bodies remain uninterested whilst it maintains the satisfaction of the Premier League empire.
There is a sinister truth behind Manchester City’s success. The club have been used as a pawn to remove stains on a reputation so devastating it is deeply unsettling that it is not talked about more. Sheikh Mansour is sportswashing the club to paper over the cracks to his faux-legitimacy and his heinous political past, and this has become a reflection of the ruinous effects of capitalism in society. So why aren’t more people talking about it?