By Tony Attwood
There are two stories floating around at the moment. One involves the possibility that the royal family of Saudi Arabia might be thinking of buying Manchester United, the other involving a West Ham coach of their under 18 side who has attended a rally held by a right wing group.
Which is the most hideous crime?
I have not found anything that suggests that a ruler of Saudi Arabia is not a fit and proper person to own a football club – although I would argue that he is, just as I have long tried to argue that an airline owned by the rulers of a group of countries which deny basic human rights to all citizens is not a fit and proper sponsor of Arsenal and its stadium.
But what strikes me is that the crime of the West Ham coach in being a member of a racist group is far less awful than the taking of mega millions from those who deny human rights to huge swathes of its population.
However the media are not with me on this. Not even one inch of the way. Here’s what the Guardian says about the West Ham situation…
“West Ham are under pressure to take action after one of their youth coaches said he went on a march organised by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, a group condemned by anti-racism campaigners.
“Mark Phillips, who coaches West Ham’s Under-18s, is facing some awkward questions after his support for the DFLA was brought to the attention of Kick It Out, football’s anti-discrimination charity. Phillips posted on Twitter about attending the DFLA’s march through central London last Saturday and defended the right-wing organisation in subsequent tweets.”
I am most certainly not saying that a prominent football club that espouses equality employing a person with discriminatory views is acceptable, absolutely not. But I am saying that accepting huge amounts of money from the ruling families of states that have constantly cracked down on those who advocate political change.
The UAE is a collection of statelets in which anyone who calls for political reform is likely to be arrested and detained on the grounds of insulting the country’s leadership. Where elected bodies start coming up with proposals for reform they are disbanded and replaced with appointed councils.
The Federal National Council of the UAE is advisory, not a parliament, and even that is elected by a tiny group of people who themselves are appointed by the emirates’ seven rulers.
As for anyone who calls for change, he or she is likely to be arrested – and indeed let us not forget that the UAE and Saudi Arabia together provided the military force that helped crush Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement.
The 1980 Printing and Publishing Law is still in force as far as I know and applies to all media and prohibits “defamatory material and negative material about presidents, friendly countries, [and] religious issues”. There are fines for publishing anything that the state does not agree with, journalists are forced to reveal sources, and businesses and individuals are banned from using secure and encrypted e-mail. There is in fact total control of all private correspondence and restrictions on the freedom of assembly and association. The judiciary is not independent, and court rulings subject to review by the political leadership.
And all this before we get to the Sharia courts which can and do impose flogging as a sentence.
As for discrimination against noncitizens and foreign workers, who comprise more than 80 percent of the UAE’s population, this is the norm and includes the withholding of passports.
So I am not saying that I approve of a West Ham coach being a member of a far right group. What I am saying is that making a fuss about him while utterly ignoring the countries that fund clubs (and to my shame, as an Arsenal supporter, Arsenal) is ludicrous. And for the Guardian, an allegedly left of centre paper to do this, is appalling.
Any media outlet that has genuine concerns about human rights should be opposing the way in which certain middle east countries are taking over our football clubs, and of course influencing the already utterly corrupt Fifa.
Singling out one guy is easy. Seeing a broader perspective seems to be harder. The Guardian should be ashamed, just as I am ashamed of the source of funding of the club I support. True, I don’t make a fuss about it every day, I still have my season ticket, and I go to games. Somehow within this mess I find my own acceptable way forward. But that still doesn’t make the takeover of football by these appalling authoritarian regimes, right.
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