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Men’s football Newcastle fans need to open their eyes to the problematic Saudi takeover

LAYTH YOUSIF powerfully examines the problems with the Magpies’ takeover earlier this year, and the importance of fans learning about the injustices associated with Saudi Arabia

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” 
― Aldous Huxley 

FIRST things first. Newcastle United’s loyal legions of supporters should not be expected to be the sole conscience when marshalling opposition to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  

Of course, unthinking support and ignorance is never the answer, and those fans blindly embracing such a murderous regime are embarrassing as they are ignorant, no matter how alienated they felt under previous owner Mike Ashley.  

But why should fans be the first point of call when resistance is required — and the first to be denigrated by mealy mouthed politicians if such actions are not forthcoming — when battling murderous and oppressive rulers who have an appalling record on human rights, including the subjugation of women and the dreadful treatment of the LGBTQ+ community? 

In the first instance, it should be politicians — not football fans — who are beholden to apply pressure on a country that brutalises opposition, murders journalists and routinely beheads opponents. 

However, given the fact the Westminster government not only operates in a moral vacuum, but is incompetence personified — allied with a buffoon of a PM, who blatantly lies on a daily basis, and whose lack of leadership, absence of ethics and integrity and alarming failure to grasp details, is as embarrassing as it is damaging — means that a government that sells billions of pounds worth of arms annually to a country that denies freedom of expression, association and assembly, is in no position to stand up to a Saudi takeover of a moribund football club, let alone prevent it.  

Discounting amoral politicians, nor should the spotlight necessarily fall on fans, when weak and inept football administrators and bodies allow such a takeover to occur.  

The fact is, sports’ decision makers turned a blind eye to a culture that treats minority groups with persecution and constant injustices, and allowed the Saudi takeover to proceed. 

So, when the Newcastle United roadshow rolls into north London on Saturday lunchtime, when the Magpies take on Arsenal at the Emirates, no-one should expect fans to conduct boycotts and protests, or wave banners and chant ditties opposing the club’s owners, even if some do.  

Of course, it would be wonderful if supporters did publicly raise aversions to such an unpalatable ownership, the way Crystal Palace fans did when they played the north-easterners at Selhurst Park recently. But fans of either side should not be condemned for a failure to do so. 

Not when the Saudi juggernaut has got this far.  

However, and make no mistake about this: What should be made explicitly clear is that opposition to a murderous regime and unconditional support of your own football club is not mutually exclusive. 

I went to Newcastle University a long time ago and loved the city, and have high regard for Geordies for their warmth, natural intelligence, dry wit and their passion for their city, their region and yes, their football club. 

But to turn a blind eye to the Saudi regime is wrong. Unthinking loyalty to a club is one thing. Unconditional support for the murderous country behind a club is another entirely. 

As ever, education is the key. And what is expected from fans of all clubs, not least from Newcastle supporters, is to educate themselves as to why opposition to a country that routinely bans the formation of political parties, trade unions and independent human rights groups, is so vitally important.  

Why simpering loyalty to a country simply because they own your football club is completely and utterly wrong.  

Men — and it is normally men — who waved the Saudi flag outside St James’ Park or who regularly post the Saudi flag in their social media bios in misguided support of their team, should be duty bound to learn about a country where women and girls continue to face discrimination in law and practice in relation to marriage, divorce and inheritance.  

And then perhaps ponder, due to the fate of birth, that their wives, daughters, mothers and sisters would face such an oppressive system if they lived in Saudi Arabia.  

Perhaps supporters could also question why, during the Premier League’s Rainbow Laces campaign, being gay in Saudi is punishable — yes “punishable” — by flogging and imprisonment?  

Why, in that brutal Kingdom, “promoting homosexuality online” — whatever the hell that means — is met with prison sentences. 

And then ask yourself: Are you happy with the moral bankruptcy and shameful prejudice of your club’s owners?  

Cheering a Jonjo Shelvey tackle does not equate with supporting a regime. But it is a regime don’t forget, whose operatives, when murdering and dismembering dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, were said to have purchased 30kg of meat from a local restaurant to cook, in order for the smell to disguise fumes from his corpse being burnt.  

Sportwashing — which is what that oil rich state’s investment in Newcastle is really about — is a malignant stain, a pernicious infestation and a dreadful development and needs to be opposed. By politicians, by governing bodies and yes by fans. In that order.   

In an era when leadership from political pygmies is singularly absent, it should not fall on football fans to take up the mantle and become political titans.  

My message to Newcastle fans — and to all football fans — is educate yourselves.  

Ask questions. Accept nothing at face value. And if you feel uncomfortable at your findings, ask yourself what you can do as an individual to oppose such a regime.  

Blind support and ignorance is not the answer in combatting murderous regimes. As Huxley said: Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

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