FOOTBALL Latest Sports News Premier League Sport

OPINION: Manchester City investigation is crucial to landing a heavy blow on sportswashing

Football in this country is at a crossroads and a clear choice between right and wrong, and it’s time for football’s higher-ups to finally start setting a better example.

A four-year investigation into Manchester City by the Premier League has allegedly uncovered serious breaches of rules to do with disclosure of sponsorship payments, player and staff contracts, Financial Fair Play and City’s compliance with the investigation itself.

The choice is simple. Does the Premier League throw the book at one of the countries most successful clubs in the Premier League era, or continue to make allowances for a club bankrolled by an authoritarian regime, whose only interest is to use football to distract from their own horrific human rights abuses?

This is a chance to set a precedent in the future, that football will not tolerate reckless spending in the name of sportswashing.

The reigning Premier League champions have seen a meteoric rise from middle table mediocrity to European football powerhouses since they were taken over by CFG, whose majority shares are owned by Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, a member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi.

However, Abu Dhabi itself still allows flogging and stoning as legal forms of judicial punishment, and the government imposes restrictions on freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, with criticism of the government or royal family heavily censored.

City Football Group, who are shareholders in a number of football clubs across the world, have become a tool for propaganda of the Abu Dhabi state, as they become associated with being a powerhouse in world football and divert attention from their human rights record.

They’re not alone in the practice of sportswashing by use of football club ownership. French giants Paris Saint-Germain are owned by Qatar Sports Investments, whilst Newcastle United have been recently taken over by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

Sportswashing makes sports fans complicit by playing on their unwavering loyalty to their clubs, and so as long as their club continue to be successful, the regimes behind them will have a loyal base of supporters who will want to keep their name associated with football.

However, should heavy sanctions be imposed on Manchester City, a message would be sent that these regimes cannot simply dump loads of money into football clubs and buy their way into the game. At the moment, the Premier League ratify prospective owners for clubs, and this investigation could lead to tighter restrictions to prevent a similar situation arising.

An added context to this whole drama is that on Wednesday, February 8, the UK Government will be publishing a white paper that many believe will recommend that an independent regulator should be brought in to safeguard football in the country. It’s well-known that the Premier League are against this, and it wouldn’t be too far to suggest that the timing of this statement following such a long investigation may have the white paper in mind.

For now, the case has been referred to a commission independent of the Premier League, who will review it further.

Manchester City responded to the Premier League this afternoon with a statement on their club website:

“Manchester City FC is surprised by the issuing of these alleged breaches of the Premier League Rules, particularly given the extensive engagement and vast amount of detailed materials that the EPL has been provided with.

The Club welcomes the review of this matter by an independent Commission, to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence that exists in support of its position.”

In summary, lots of people have claimed that sport is politically neutral, but that is factually incorrect. Anything involving transactions of money will have politics surrounding it. It’s important that football uses its audience not for the promotion of authoritarian regimes but to actively challenge those narratives they seek to promote, and this investigation is an opportunity for football to strike back against sportswashing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *