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Best game at Arsenal: Newcastle success – for some fans with far too high a price tag

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 abruptly reject the Saudi investor.

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 face leaders Arsenal in third place in the table. With an away win, ‘The Toon’ would close the gap to six points.

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John Hird is 61 and is a fan of ‘Toon’, as the club has also been known since he was a child, alongside the better known ‘The Magpies’. His parents already had season tickets for the north-east English club, which won four championships, the last in 1927.

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

Hird, who was an English teacher in the Basque Country for decades, will not watch his side’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’ was sold to a billion-dollar-funded consortium 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 lights

When Newcastle lost to Liverpool at the end of August, John Hird was in a pub in Felling, his home town. He watched the match with two other Toon fans. Both wore a kufiya, the Arab headscarf for men. Meetings like this are important to him and his group, says Hird. So he came with the “Majority” in the conversation favorable to the engagement of the Saudis or at most neutral.

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

Outwardly reforming, ruthless to critics

the “NUFC Fans Against Sports Washing” want to shed light, with other activists, such as the “Saudi European Organization for Human Rights” (ESOHR). The organization lists human rights abuses in the Persian Gulf kingdom, which is effectively ruled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A demonstration of the “NUFC Fans against Sportswashing” initiative

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 tough and bloody hand and allows no criticism.

“The rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly were also massively curtailed in 2021. The Special Criminal Court for Terrorist Offenses handed down long prison sentences to people who had campaigned for human rights. man and expressed dissenting opinions.”wrote Amnesty in its latest report on Saudi 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.

Heavy 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 posts criticizing the regime on social media.

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

Sports wash in the classic sense

To distract from death sentences, which are often said to have been handed down after confessions extracted under torture, Saudi Arabia owns a football club in northeast England, founded a golf series and injected hundreds of millions of dollars. Formula 1 is rolling in Saudi Arabia, and in the 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 – think of the Winter Games, for which a landscape wintry will be established. It’s sports washing in the classic sense of buying soft power with celebrities and great photos.

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

“So Saudi Arabia wants it too”

Therefore, Ali Adubisi, the director of EOSHR, does not believe that Saudi Arabia will just host the 2030 World Cup along with Egypt and Greece. This three-way application is in the bedroom. “Qatar organized a World Cup on their own. Then Saudi Arabia wants to prove it too. That’s their mentality.”says Adubisi, who served time in Saudi jails twice over a decade ago for carrying publications the regime disliked.

“Money”also says John Hird, “doesn’t matter to the Saudis”. He therefore expects Newcastle United to be much more attacking than before in the transfer market in the future as well. Perhaps he will then know the first championship of his club. It would be, according to the “NoSaudiToon”, bought with blood money.

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