Football Has A Morality Problem

In many ways, the idea that football as a sport has an issue around morals won’t come as a shock to many people. At the top level, players and managers are paid millions of pounds a year in order to play a game that billions play around the world every day, with the money coming thanks to the fact that they are the very best at what they do. Meanwhile, those that don’t make it are left to muddle through life, coping with the disappointment and struggle of seeing others make huge sums of money by being ever so slightly better at it than they are. Go even further down the footballing pyramid and you find plenty of footballers who play full-time, but barely make in a year what those at the top earn in a week. There are, of course, plenty of the Premier League and other top-level footballers who are more than happy to set up charities and what they can for the less fortunate, but ultimately it is about them earning as much money as they can during a relatively short career.

The morality problem that I’m talking about is less to do with money and more to do with the attitudes towards certain things. Not only that, but it doesn’t stop at just those directly involved in the game. As a left-leaning person politically, I’ve always been amazed at those people from working class backgrounds who jump to the defence of the Tories when another scandal breaks. Similarly, I’m dumbfounded by those who champion Donald Trump when they can barely scrape together enough money for rent and he has a gold toilet. Why on earth would you so quickly move to defend those who would walk over your corpse in order to pick up a ten pound note? By the same token, there are countless football fans who defend the actions of players whose actions are indefensible. In recent weeks, I have received countless tweets from people telling me to stop criticising Jordan Henderson, in spite of the fact that he is very deserving of criticism. Football feels lost right now.

Human Rights Matter

Newcastle United are owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. That is beyond dispute. PIF itself went to court in America to say that it was directly linked to the government of Saudi Arabia, so Newcastle United are de facto owned by Saudi Arabia. Manchester City are owned by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the current vice president and deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, so Manchester City are de facto owned by the U.A.E. Saudi Arabia is a murderous state in which journalists who are critical of the rulers are executed, LGBTQ+ people are not allowed to exist and women and immigrants are treated as second-class citizens if they are lucky. The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, is an authoritarian federal monarchy, which the annual Freedom House report on Freedom in the World has repeatedly listed as ‘not free’ since 1999. Forced disappearance and torture are both commonplace in the U.A.E.

To Newcastle United and Manchester City fans, these things are unimportant. When a protest group set up outside St. James’ Park over the weekend in order to draw attention to the poor record of Saudi Arabia on human rights, many Newcastle fans argued with them. Why? Because they likelihood is that Amanda Stavely and the members of PIF that she helped to buy the club will bring the Magpies trophies. Point out the appalling state of ownership at either club online and you will be bombarded with people making all sorts of nonsense, false equivalence arguments. “Are you just going to ignore that your club is sponsored by Standard Chartered?”, being one. “You’re owned by Americans and the U.S.A. has engaged in wars left, right and centre” being another. Let me be absolutely clear: I am against state ownership of any kind. I am also very much against the governments of the United State and the United Kingdom. But those arguments don’t wash and they make those doing the arguing sound idiotic.

Football Is For Everyone

I have made more than a few jibes at Jordan Henderson online recently. When I have, people have leapt to his defence, telling me things like I’m being too harsh or that it feels like vindictive. I have been clear that I have a problem with all of the players that are moving to Saudi Arabia. By doing so, they are becoming part of the sports-washing project of a country that says that LGBTQ+ people are not allowed to exist. That women are second-class citizens and that it’s ok to shoot immigrants at the border to stop them from entering the country. By getting paid by one of the clubs in a dictatorial country, even if the club isn’t owned by PIF, they are normalising Saudi Arabia as a country on the footballing world stage and saying to LGBTQ+ people that they do not matter. By willingly standing up for LGBTQ+ groups, Henderson put himself in the spotlight and has now turned his back on those people to make himself richer. That, in my opinion, is worthy of extra criticism.

It isn’t just LGBTQ+ people that are regularly given the impression that they aren’t really welcome at football matches. Arsenal have Thomas Partey regularly starting games for them, despite the fact that he has had his bail extended for an alleged rape three times. Manchester United brought Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club even though he won’t enter the United States of America, tried to find a way to keep Mason Greenwood at the club irrespective of the domestic violence that he carried out against his then-girlfriend and also have the likes of Anthony playing for them, who himself has been accused of assault. There is barely a club that is innocent on that front, given the number of footballers who sent messages of support to Benjamin Mendy when he was acquitted of charges of rape. That list includes the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Ibrahima Konaté and Fabio Carvalho, so this isn’t me making it about club bias. Football is morally bankrupt and I’m not sure how much longer the game can survive; or at least my love of it.

One Response
  1. October 18, 2023

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