Sunday, September 24, 2023

The long, slow corruption of the Premier League

After yesterday’s blog post, a story emerged about the Premier League and the fact they are now considering modifying their owners and directors test to include the minor issue of ‘human rights’ when making decisions.

That’s swell of them. Imagine that up to now this hasn’t been an issue for them at all, but the world’s focus on Russia, oligarchs and connections with a warmonger have been enough for them to take stock. I wonder what their threshold for this stuff is. For example, murdering and dismembering one journalist isn’t sufficient to stop the takeover of a famous English club.

Is it two journalists? A dozen? Torture? Child soldiers? The use of white phosphorous on innocent civilians? Bombing funerals? A delicious cocktail of all of the above, and more?

Honestly, the Premier League as an organisation is corrupted beyond words at this point. Venal, avaricious, thinking only of how this TV extravaganza (with some football thrown in from time to time) can generate revenue and extract cash from the fans of regular folks who just love the sport and love their teams.

Maybe, in the early days, they genuinely didn’t even consider the possibility that clubs would be bought by people who had connections to human rights abuses, but it’s not as if that possibility didn’t become apparent pretty quickly. Just a few months ago they green-lit the sale of Newcastle United to the Saudi Public Investment Fund, knowing fine well its chairman is Mohammad bin Salman. He, of course, is the crown prince of Saudi Arabia whose human rights abuses are well documented by the likes of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and even the mainstream media.

Amnesty International UK’s CEO, Sacha Deshmukh, told the Financial Times Business of Sport Summit yesterday: “In an era of global sports-washing and with the horror of what is currently unfolding in Ukraine, the Premier League has a clear moral responsibility to change its ownership rules to put a stop to top-flight English football being used as a PR vehicle for those complicit in serious human rights violations.”

I mean, that’s absolutely right, but when all of a sudden we are outraged by human rights abuses by football club owners, whether directly involved or because they are strongly connected to certain people, why should the people who facilitated their involvement in this game we all love get a free pass? Why should any of us trust them to do the right thing now when they’ve been completely unwilling to do it in the past?

They can’t plead ignorance. They knew fine well what they were allowing, and who they were dealing with. They turned a blind eye, looked the other way, and at best paid lip-service to the concerns that many people had. And why? Cold. Hard. Cash. Because the spending power would make the Premier League more attractive when it comes to TV rights, sponsors, commercial partners and all the rest.

If Roman Abramovich is out because of his connections to Putin and the war in Ukraine; and if Everton have severed ties with Alisher Usmanov and his lucrative sponsorships; then why should that be the end of it? We all get the existential threat of this conflict, but it has also demonstrated that when there’s sufficient backlash and condemnation of events/atrocities, or whatever way you want to categorise them, seismic shifts can occur.

I’m sorry to go on about this again, but I feel quite strongly that we’re not seeing the wood for the trees here. If it’s right to sanction those people with connections to Putin, how are we not seriously talking about the people who run the Premier League and who couldn’t have cared less until the shit hit the fan? Surely questions have to be asked about the current Chief Executive Richard Masters, Chair Gary Hoffman, the non-executive directors, and former executives like Richard Scudamore?

Is it any wonder that Masters, after the Tracy Crouch report, played down the idea that the Premier League needed an independent regulator, saying, “I don’t think that the independent regulator is the answer to the question. I would defend the Premier League’s role as regulator of its clubs over the past 30 years.”

He would, wouldn’t he? But it doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny whatsoever. If we, as fans, condemn this war and those connected to the Premier League – however tangential that might be – we can’t be blind to the other issues involving other owners. Nor can we continue to overlook the Premier League’s complicity in sports-washing the reputations of those who used it to gain respectability – and even love – from the fans they get on board with their monstrous wealth because signing a ‘World Class DM’ makes it easy to forget all the heinous shit they do.

Once more, let me clear: I’m not being critical of fans, we can only exist in the reality that they have created, and what they have created is awful, but if there’s any seriousness about addressing of all this, the slate needs to be wiped clean, and we need to make it clear what we think (hence this post).

Rip it up and start again, otherwise nothing substantial will change.

Brand new Arsecast for you below. Focus on Arsenal and football tomorrow as we prepare for Watford on Sunday. News on Arseblog News after Mikel Arteta’s press conference tomorrow.


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