Manchester, Newcastle ‘easy’ target — report – DW – 23/06/2023

The takeovers of Manchester City and Newcastle United by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, respectively, are facilitated by the local social, economic and political conditions that make the takeovers of Manchester City and Newcastle United, according to a new report. their clubs and cities become easy targets for sports cleanup.

In “Easy Cities to Buy,” published on Friday, human rights research organization FairSquare detailing how local politicians in both Manchester and Newcastle not only failed to speak out against the human rights abuses committed by countries that bought football clubs in their cities, but also actively encourage and support such takeovers.

For context, the report explains how de-industrialization coupled with the UK government’s economic austerity has caused councils in formerly industrial northern England cities such as Manchester and Newcastle desperately need investment from alternative sources. As investment from the private sector also dried up, the report said, they looked abroad and found it, at least in part, in government wealth.

The report also details how local media in Manchester and Newcastle have been unwilling or depressed due to the collapse of print and reliance on online advertising revenue, simply cannot fully account for clubs, investors, owners and politicians.

Nick McGeehan, FairSquare co-director and co-author of the report, said: “It’s clear that politicians and officials welcome investment in their city and want to fulfill the community’s desire to succeed in football. copper is normal.

“But so far, civic leaders in both Manchester and Newcastle have deliberately turned a blind eye to the risks of allowing these states to establish centers of political power and influence in their cities. , to the extent that they have effectively supported their efforts.”

Cities and regions and investment appetite

The cities of Manchester and Newcastle were the engine rooms of the industrial revolution in England in the 19th century, the first built on cotton and textile production, the second on coal and shipbuilding.

In the 21st century, however, as the report details, those industries have been in decline. Despite receiving increasing foreign investment, Manchester and Newcastle have some of the highest rates of unemployment, homelessness and child poverty in the country.

Newcastle United fan, wearing an Arabic hat, waves a black and white flag and banner to celebrate the club's recent takeover by a Saudi-led consortium
It’s not just the fans in Newcastle who welcome the Saudi takeover; FairSquare’s report suggests that UK politicians tooImage: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Importantly, both cities have famous, traditional but underperforming football clubs such as Manchester City and Newcastle United.

Under the phenomenon known as sport washing, football clubs represent attractive propositions for Middle Eastern nations looking to diversify their economies away from oil and gas while masking their actions. human rights violations on the global stage.

Furthermore, fans see the promise of money injection as the path to sporting success, while underfunded boards see a valuable investment.

And, as the FairSquare report details, based on existing reporting, they have been actively lobbying for it, turning a blind eye to all others.

How politicians actively lobby for takeover

The initial attempt by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) to take over Newcastle United, also known as the Warblers, in 2020 has been blocked by the Premier League.

The decision was made not because of PIF’s inherent links to the Saudi government or well-documented human rights abuses in the country, but because of repeated Premier League piracy Britain of Saudi-funded Qatari broadcaster BeIN Sports – part of a broader regional strategy. The dispute culminated in the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar.

At the time of the first takeover attempt, the Premier League was under pressure not only from the PIF-led consortium led by public face Amanda Staveley, but also, the report said, “from politicians in northeastern England and, it later happened, the British government.”

Fans wrote to their local members of parliament, MPs questioned ministers and launched petitions, and the then-Chairman of Newcastle Council , Pat Richie, has offered to meet with the Premier League to work on a “compromise” so that the deal is passed on the basis that it will be “convertible” for the region.

Lobbying has reached its climax, with the Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) receiving an email from then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson in August 2020 saying: “It must be made clear why why is it?” there was a significant delay in making a decision and on why the corporation decided to withdraw their bid.”

Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour (centre) and Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak at the Champions League Final in Istanbul
Manchester City Council insists Manchester City’s owners have been good for the city – dispute reportImage: Mark Pain/empics/image alliance

The reason for Johnson’s involvement became clear a year later when Daily mail revealed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman lobbied the British government directly for the deal in June 2020, saying:

“We hope the Premier League will reconsider… The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has opened its doors to UK investments in various sectors and initiated a mutually beneficial investment program with no. large grants. [Premier League]Unfortunately, the erroneous conclusion will have a negative impact on the economic and trade relations of both our countries.”

Reported by sport in April 2023 revealed an email from the UK’s deputy ambassador to Saudi Arabia noting: “The purchase of Newcastle United by [Saudi Arabia’s] sovereign wealth fund would be a valuable boost to the relationship and a signal of Saudi Arabia’s intention to continue investing in the northeast [of England].”

Newcastle City Council has been approached for comment.

Manchester: How good is Abu Dhabi really for the city?

Back in September 2008, when Manchester City was bought by what Financial Times known as “a group of Abu Dhabi investors”, the takeover caused much less controversy.

The term “sports wash” hasn’t even been coined and even the club’s new president, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, has spoken to Guard in 2009, suggested that the idea of ​​”showing the world what Abu Dhabi is” was “something new, something we didn’t really plan.” That soon changed.

As recounted in the FairSquare report, subsequent investigations by Sunday Times And University of Sheffield revealed how, after the British government encouraged the attraction of UAE investment, Manchester City Council allegedly sold land to Abu Dhabi for undervalued and without a proper bidding process.

The reports also show how homes in renewable areas in east Manchester are unbuyable and how Council is not receiving rental income, money is being sucked out of the city – all while Manchester grapples with an acute homelessness crisis.

A spokesman for Manchester City Council denied the case, telling DW that “land owned by the council has been sold for the best price” and highlighted the “positive impact that the investment in Manchester has had”. brought to our community – and continued benefits to the city.”

The council also said the FairSquare report provided a “one-sided view” and stressed that the Abu Dhabi United Group, which owns Manchester City, was “a private entity not synonymous with the state of Abu Dhabi.”

A truck with protest posters highlighting Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses, including the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul outside the courtyard before a football game Premier League between Newcastle and Tottenham Hotspur
A protest billboard has been set up outside a Newcastle United match, highlighting Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, including the murder of Arab dissident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018Photo: Jon Super/AP/image alliance

Qatar: Is Manchester United next?

Report co-author and FairSquare co-director Nick McGeehan also doesn’t deny that “the investment has delivered a number of benefits to Manchester and will yield a number of benefits to Newcastle, particularly in terms of sporting success and impact.” important action on important intangibles such as hope and pride.”

But he stressed that, “in an era where sport is increasingly subject to the control and influence of authoritarian regimes and in the light of the cultural, financial and emotional power of club football, we must scrutinize these patterns of ownership and should not become political tools for autocrats.”

The FairSquare report concludes that this review of English football has not been carried out by the UK government, local politicians or by appropriately resourced local media, warning that countries Countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia will continue to exploit this situation. job.

With Qatar already scheduled to bid to take over Manchester United, there is yet to be a third Gulf player involved, and McGeehan sees similarities.

He told DW from the report’s launch event in Manchester: “There are obvious similarities when it comes to Qatar’s bid for United, where we’ve also seen the UK government brief on how they would welcome Qatar investment.

“That fits perfectly with the Newcastle takeover, with complete silence from the city’s political elite, from MPs and councilors. In the case of Manchester, that is particularly problematic. problem because you can have two Gulf states, who are still essentially hostile, using the city as a proxy battleground for their individual adversaries.”

Editing: Rebecca Staudenmaier


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