By Ben MacLeod
For those not interested in football, the sale of Newcastle United Football Club last month may seem trivial however, the nature of this transaction is at heart visibly and shamelessly political. In October, following a long legal dispute, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (P.I.F.) completed the £305 million takeover of one of the Premier League’s most historically important football clubs, Newcastle United. While officially under the control of the P.I.F., no one doubts the fact that the club are now under the majority ownership of the Saudi state.
State involvement in football is not new and had grown significantly in the last decade. State owned companies from Russia (Gazprom), Qatar (Qatar Airways) and the UAE (Fly Emirates) have already become part of the furniture in Europe’s top leagues and are the recognised brands involved in the sport. However, this deal in particular highlights the damming reality of modern day commercial football.
Loyalties and heritage that are central to European football’s widespread success have now become prized resources in global vying for soft power and it seems that Saudi Arabia wish to use Newcastle United as a vessel to reform their global image. The purchase has already helped soften certain perceptions of the Saudi state. This year the club’s supporters trust voted 97% in favour of the Saudi takeover, despite it having been just over three years since the fallout following the apparent Saudi involvement in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in Istanbul. For many, football remains an escape from the lingering disillusionment in daily life and as a result it is unsurprising that fans are willing to ignore the wider ethical dilemmas involved in this deal. Football is becoming increasingly politicised and the sport’s authorities should not ignore the ramifications that this will cause. Football is no longer just a game; it has become a new political frontier. Even if you are one of the many that find football unbearably dull, I recommend you having a look at the innumerable geopolitical issues that have become intrinsically linked to the sport. It is becoming an interesting microcosm of wider international affairs and in the coming years it is only going to grow in significance.
Published Nov. 13 2021
Image source: Reuters