By Tony Attwood
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As anyone who has bothered to ask me knows, when it comes to religion I am a Pastafarian a group that I have loved since I first read about them in New Scientist about 15 years ago. (I first mentioned them here in 2008, and a quick search suggests I’ve only mentioned the cult three times since, so I’m not really forcing it down readers’ throats by adding one more reference).
But that preference for making fun of religions doesn’t stop me appreciating the right of Mesut Özil to express his view over the treatment of the Uighurs by the government of China. Nor does it stop me worrying about the way Arsenal seem (along with much of the rest of football) to want to sell themselves to anyone with money.
I am far from happy about Arsenal’s association with Rwanda which has a record of “arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture.” Nor with any engagement with Qatar of which I have written on numerous occasions on this site. In fact there are all sorts of things and places that I don’t like, and places I choose not to go, and from time to time I have probably mentioned most of them here.
Arsenal on the other hand seems to want to deal with any government it can find. China, Rwanda and probably quite a few more, and of course lots of Arsenal players will quite happily engage in the forthcoming world cup secure in the lack of knowledge about how many workmen and women, died or were maimed on the construction sites.
And we’re all used to this: supporting a club that is a money-making machine first and foremost, and a place that cares about human rights, well, not too much at all. And no I am not saying that Arsenal should not do deals in China.
But I am, along with a few other people, pretty fed up that such an amoral club as the club I (for historic family reasons) support, comes out with a statement that says, “Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics” as if it were a good thing. “We turn our back on morality in order to make money” is probably a better way of putting it.
However this is not a simple issue that can be dealt with in one quick apology to the Chinese state and a faster transfer out of the club than Mesut might have otherwise got, because Arsenal is not the only club kowtowing to dictators worldwide, as long as they can pay.
As the Guardian’s article on the topic reminds us, the general manager of the Houston Rockets showed support for democracy protesters in Hong Kong. In that case the Chinese government then demanded that the general manager be sacked while they removed coverage of the NBA from Chinese TV.
The club then told the Chinese government that American values travelled with the league wherever it went. And one of those values is freedom expression. Although perhaps not for Arsenal.
Players are people who have and are of course fully entitled to have, opinions. If the deal is now that they have to give up the expression of their opinions when they enter Arsenal, that stops us being a football club based in a western democracy. It means Héctor Bellerín can’t talk about his friendship with and support of Jeremy Corbyn. And after that – do they take away my season ticket because I’m also an active Labour Party supporter?
I don’t support Mesut Özil’s promotion of a religion, because I think religions reduce the chances of freedom of thought – but that’s my view, and thankfully in the UK I am at liberty to express that.
Personally I would also love Arsenal to have a view that stopped them supporting any organisation or country that promotes arbitrary detention, torture and lack of freedom. I thoroughly dislike the policies of my country’s new government, but much more important to me is the freedom that still exists in my country that allows people to have an election, and the freedom of speech which allows me the right to criticise PGMO, the FA and the government which funds them, and have a laugh at the expense of Donald Trump.
The more we allow our sponsors to dictate what we can do, the worst things become – and the thing about doing deals with countries that do not value or even recognise personal freedom is that they will always seek to extend their influence further. And as that happens then the less our club is related to the Royal Arsenal FC that the workers at the Woolwich Arsenal factories set up, and that Henry Norris rescued with the aim of creating a club once more owned by its own fans.
Given our origins, maybe the club could remember that in England where the club was formed, and America, wherein the club is now owned, freedom of expression is key value, and that value travels with the club, always.
Arsenal really need to clean up their act, or come out with a new message appropriate to its new style. “Kowtowing to dictatorships across the world” would seem to do it, and make quite sure that we all know just what sort of mindset now runs Arsenal FC.
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