Chambers hosts launch event for sportswashing report

27 June 2023

Cover of Fair Square's report - Easy Cities to Buy

Sportswashing in English football was the subject of an event held at Garden Court North Chambers on Friday.

Chambers was the venue of choice of human rights organisation Fair Square for the launch of its latest report – Easy Cities To Buy – which looks at the impact of the takeovers of Manchester City FC and Newcastle United FC as a vehicle for soft power by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The report compares the two cities and both takeovers as well as looking at the actions and responses of decision-makers and journalists at a local and national level.

Co-director of Fair Square, Nick McGeehan, said: “We wrote the report because of our long-standing interest in and opposition to state ownership of football clubs. The parallels between what happened in Manchester and Newcastle were so striking that we felt it was imperative that the response to the takeovers be thoroughly detailed, and that the concept of sportswashing be analysed, not just as a phenomenon that autocratic states use to curate their reputations, but as something that can actually damage the institutions that underpin our local democracies.”

In the foreword of the report McGeehan writes: “This report is not an attempt to weigh up the pros and cons of these investments. It accepts that investment has brought some benefits to Manchester and will bring some benefits to Newcastle, not least in terms of sporting success and the critical effect that has on important intangibles like hope and pride. These arguments should be factored into any debate on this issue. However, in an era when sport is increasingly coming under the control and influence of authoritarian regimes and in the context of the cultural, financial and emotional power of club football, it is imperative that we scrutinize these ownership models. Football clubs should not become political tools for autocrats and authoritarians, and a failure to arrest the increasing involvement of states will likely have devastating impacts for the game, and potentially for the clubs themselves and the cities whose political classes generally appear blind to the threat that they pose.”

The launch event attracted guests from across Manchester including councillors, members of football fan groups, human rights organisations, journalists and Manchester residents, one of whom lives in a Manchester Life property built as a joint venture between Manchester City Council and Sheikh Mansour, owner of Manchester City FC

GCN’s Pete Weatherby KC and the late Mark George KC are both mentioned in the report for adding their names to an open letter in 2016coordinated by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, criticising the UAE’s worsening human rights record.

The report was covered by the BBC’s Politics North West programme which touched upon the response of local media and the council (watch from 22:28). The issue was also mentioned on the podcast Pod Save the UK.

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