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Topspiel beim FC Arsenal: Newcastles Erfolg – für manche Fans mit viel zu hohem Preis


Status: 02.01.2023 10:55 a.m

Newcastle United are on their way to the Champions League. For some fans, however, the price of success is far too high. They brusquely reject the investor from Saudi Arabia.

In the eighth minute of added time, Fabio Carvalho scored to make it 2-1 for Liverpool. It was the last day of August 2022 and it was the day Newcastle United conceded their only Premier League defeat.

On Tuesday (03/01/2023), the third day of the new year, Newcastle United Football Club (NUFC) will take on leaders Arsenal in third place in the table. With an away win, “The Toon” would reduce the gap to six points.

Premier League, Day 19 Right arrow

John Hird is 61 and has been a fan of the ‘Toon’, as the club is also known, since childhood, alongside the more commonly known ‘The Magpies’. His parents already had season tickets for the club from the north-east of England, which won four championships, most recently in 1927.

John Hird (left) is the founder of the NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing initiative

Hird, who has been an English teacher in the Basque Country for decades, will not be watching his team’s game at Arsenal. He is the founder of the NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing initiative, which can be found on Twitter @NoSaudiToon. Since “The Toon” were sold to a consortium financed with billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia in October 2021, Hird has not watched his favorite club’s games in the stadium or at home. “But when I’m in a pub in my home country and the game is on, I don’t look away either,” he says.

No call for a boycott, but enlightenment

When Newcastle lost to Liverpool at the end of August, John Hird was at a pub in Felling, his home town. He watched the game with two other Toon fans. Both wore a kufiya, the Arab headscarf for men. Such encounters are important to him and his group, says Hird. This is how he gets into conversation with the “majority” who are sympathetic to the commitment of the Saudis or, at most, neutral.

The Twitter account of the “NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing” has around 2,200 followers on New Year’s Eve 2022, “a few hundred people” ordered the newsletter, according to Hird. He knows “that we are in the minority, but we are becoming more,” says the “NoSaudiToon”. He and his comrades-in-arms “do not want to call for a boycott of the games. Everyone should decide for themselves whether they watch the games, whether they buy merchandising licensed by the club, such as the jersey, which is in the Saudi national colors.

Outwardly reformer, merciless to critics

The “NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing” want to clarify, together with other activists, such as the “European Saudi Organization for Human Rights” (ESOHR). The organization lists human rights violations in the Persian Gulf Kingdom, which is effectively governed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A protest by the initiative “NUFC Fans against Sportswashing”

On the one hand, bin Salman presents himself as a reformer, as someone who, for example, strengthens women’s rights and, among other things, allows them to drive cars. On the other hand, according to organizations such as ESOHR and Amnesty International, he rules with a hard and bloody hand and does not allow any criticism.

“The rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly continued to be severely curtailed in 2021. The Special Criminal Court for Terrorist Offenses handed down long prison sentences to human rights activists and dissenters,” writes Amnesty in its latest report on Saudi Arabia. Arabia.

In its latest report, ESOHR writes that the number of executions is higher than it has been for a long time. Currently, 61 people are threatened with death, including eight minors. In 2020, Saudi Arabia claimed to have abolished the death penalty for minors.

High prison sentences for dissident posts

The crown prince has also been accused by human rights organizations of restricting freedom of expression and bizarrely high prison sentences, for example for postings critical of the regime on social networks.

It is also said that in 2018 bin Salman ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a critical journalist. The crown prince denies that.

Sports washing in the classic sense

To distract from the death sentences, which are often said to have been handed down after confessions extracted under torture, Saudi Arabia owns a football club in north-east England, founded a golf series and pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into it. Formula 1 drives in Saudi Arabia, and in future Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best footballers in the world, will play in the desert state that will host the Asian Games in 2029 – mind you the Winter Games, for which a winter landscape will be created. This is sports washing in the classic sense of buying soft power with celebrities and beautiful pictures.

Lionel Messi, Ronaldo’s opponent, may be under contract to Paris Saint-Germain, the Qatar-backed French serial champions, but he’s also already raking in money from Saudi Arabia for an advertising campaign designed to attract tourists to the Gulf state, which is so much larger as Qatar.

“Then Saudi Arabia wants it too”

Therefore, Ali Adubisi, the director of EOSHR, does not believe that Saudi Arabia will be satisfied with hosting the 2030 World Cup together with Egypt and Greece. This three-way application is in the room. “Qatar organized a World Cup on its own. Then Saudi Arabia wants to prove it too. That’s their mentality,” says Adubisi, who spent time in Saudi Arabian prisons twice more than ten years ago because he had literature with him that said it was regime did not like.

“Money,” John Hird agrees, “plays no role at all for the Saudis.” He therefore expects that Newcastle United will also be much more offensive than before on the transfer market in the future. Perhaps he will then experience his club’s first championship. It would be, according to the “NoSaudiToon”, bought with bloody money.

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