by Tony Attwood
The problem with accepting sponsorship from a state sponsored entity, when the state is a dictatorship and human rights denier are obvious, and we have touched on them many times before. Untold tended to call the stadium the Ems (which was the name of a sandwich bar on East Midlands Trains) and more recently Arsenal Stadium, not that this does any good in the broader scheme of things. We actually had the address emiratesstadium.info for a while which seemed amusing for a while – until one thinks of the human rights situation.
I have flown Emirates Airlines once but what it’s worth that was it and I personally won’t fly on the airline again, even though for trips to see my daughter it is far more convenient for me, flying as it does from Birmingham rather than Heathrow.
I also absolutely avoid Dubai as a change over point having found it appallingly ill-organised and worrying – especially when it is necessary to ensure that one knows how to get in touch with “Arrested in Dubai” before even entering its precincts.
But what does one do apart from avoid the airline even when it is the most convenient one to take to protest about Arsenal’s association with the Emirates? The Emirates have pushed themselves, and continue to push themselves into all corners of British society. For example we have just had the launch of The Emirates Society organised by Sulaiman Al Mazroui, the UAE ambassador to Britain, which is designed to link Britain ever more closely to the Emirates.
According to the official report “The project aims to promote an understanding of Emirati culture and foster ties between British and Emirati businesses through cultural and social events.
“Collaboration between the UK and the UAE can be seen in all four corners of the UK. From DP World’s London Gateway, to the all-conquering Manchester City football team, and Masdar’s clean energy investments in Scotland,” Mr Al Mazroui said.
And then we have British academic Matthew Hedges, a 31-year-old PhD student in Middle Eastern Studies at Durham University, arrested at Dubai Airport on 5 May and now sentenced to life in prison in the United Arab Emirates on charges he was spying for the United Kingdom.
Of course the British government describes it as shocking and there have been many, many reports of the process Mr Hedges has gone through including a five minute trial, which bears no relationship to anything many people in the UK would consider a proper process.
When the Sun, in August this year ran the headline “8 ways to get arrested in Dubai” it was over a slightly jokey “aren’t these foreigners funny” story, but it has beneath it a frightening tale of what the UAE is: an appalling dictatorship and human rights denier.
As the Human Rights Watch website states in its summary, the UAE “arbitrarily detains and in some cases forcibly disappears individuals who criticize the authorities. The UAE plays a leading role in the Saudi-led coalition which has carried out scores of unlawful attacks in Yemen, some likely war crimes. The UAE was implicated in detainee abuse at home and abroad. Labor abuses in the UAE persist. Migrant construction workers face serious exploitation. Domestic workers’ rights are now enshrined in law, but some provisions are weaker than those accorded to other workers under the labor law. The UAE has denied activists and international human rights organizations’ access.”
According to the 2016 Amnesty annual report on human rights “enforced disappearance has been widely practiced against citizen and foreign nationals in the UAE.”
So to travel right back to the time when Arsenal did the deal with the UAE, what happened?
We all know that getting the funding for the stadium was difficult, and you may recall Mr Wenger saying that while French clubs “pay nothing at all for their stadium, nothing at all for their maintenance,” and “Bayern Munich paid one euro for their ground,” Arsenal had to pay for everything in of all places Islington – one of the most expensive parts of the country.
Since then he might have added that some clubs in England such as West Ham and Manchester City don’t pay much for their stadia either.
In Arsenal’s case the stadium was paid for in part by selling Nicolas Anelka to Real Madrid, plus Overmars and Petit to Barcelona which also helped fund the new training ground at London Colney.
In 2005 Emirates Airlines bought the naming rights for 15 years and shirt sponsorship rights for seven years for £100 million.
The Airline and Arsenal agreed a further £150 million in November 2012 which extended naming rights until 2028 which of course means there is nothing much we can do about it, except for just a few of us, not use the name, not fly the airline, and point out the dangers incumbent on anyone flying through Dubai, which if you fly Emirates, is obligatory.
If you do go to that country you know you are at risk of arrest for all sorts of things that in the west you couldn’t be arrested for. And you know what that will mean: it is a fearful country
Verbal abuse relating to a person’s sexual honour is punishable by 80 lashes. Non Muslims need Alcohol Licenses to consume alcohol and not having one results in 1–6 months detention.
Women who report rape can be convicted for false allegations and imprisoned. In 2013 a Norwegian woman reported an alleged rape and got a prison sentence for “perjury, illicit sex and alcohol consumption.”
And what can we do? Seemingly no more now than in 2005. Not use the official name of the stadium might seem pointless and pathetic, and sometimes I’ve given up on renaming the place, but it is something in a world when one feels powerless. Yes, I could give up my season ticket but then so what – someone else would take it and the only person affected is me. Maybe I should have written a lot more about the subject over the years, but then I guess it would have just got boring and I know the readership would have gone down as it always does when I stray from football matters. In effect, I don’t reach the people I’d like to reach.
Apart from not using the name and not using the airline, and if anyone asks, warning them about my experience when I did use the airline, I guess just the occasional article pointing out that the club some of us have loved all our lives is associated with and part funded by a most appalling human rights denier is about all I can do.
But it never seems enough.