Written by John Hird

noun: kleptocracy; plural noun: kleptocracies

a society or system ruled by people who use their power to steal their country's resources.

Over the eighteen months of ownership by the Saudi dictatorship, NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing (NUFCFAS) has warned our fellow fans not to get too used to the blood money from the regime. 

The accusations against Manchester City show that state ownership of clubs opens up football to the practices of kleptocratic dictatorships like Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia.

Manchester City are facing 101 charges of alleged rule breaking from the Premier League, ranging from assisting league investigations, profitability and sustainability, to manager remuneration and accuracy of financial information.

Manchester City Chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak is a senior government official and the nominal owner, Sheikh Mansour Al-Nahyan (pictured below), is Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE and the brother of the President Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

DP World, which operates across the globe and is effectively owned by Dubai’s ruling royal family, was the company which sacked 800 P&O workers. DP World is under the direct control of the government.

It should be of no surprise to football fans that a company controlled by a dictatorship, which is prepared to break all international and UK labour laws by tearing up the contracts of workers, also ignores the FFP rules of the Premier League...

This has important implications for Newcastle United Football Club which is owned by another Middle Eastern absolutist monarchy, renowned for the kleptomania of its chief dictators. Mohammed bin Salman’s family’s wealth is estimated in the $trillions, and there is little reason to believe MBS doesn’t have the final say over its control.

Matthew Philpotts recently wrote in True Faith: “Of course, the perspective of any Newcastle fan on these developments is scarcely a disinterested one. Indeed, the natural inclination towards mirth-filled Schadenfreude is rather tempered by the inevitable comparison to our own position and an understandably self-interested concern with the potential ramifications for our particular project of state-funded financial doping.”

“But for now the laying of charges against Manchester City carries an immense symbolic weight. It shows us that there is no immunity even with the wealth of a sovereign state behind you.”

Is there any evidence that the Saudi regime will respect financial fair play rules any more than Abu Dhabi? Are our dictators better than theirs?

The answer is no. The Saudi kleptocracy has corruption and bribery written into its DNA.

The Al Yamamah series of arms deals with Saudi Arabia was, and remains, Britain’s biggest arms deal ever concluded, earning the prime contractor, BAE Systems, at least GBP 43 billion in revenue between 1985 and 2007, with further deals still ongoing. It was also one of the world’s worst cases of corruption.

According to Corruption Tracker: “An investigation by the UK government’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) uncovered ‘commission’ payments, or bribes, totalling as much as GBP 6 billion paid by BAE Systems to members of the Saudi royal family and others. A key recipient of these payments, including over GBP 1 billion, was Prince Bandar bin Sultan, son of the Saudi Crown Prince.”

As Andrew Feinstein, wrote in The Shadow World:

“The deal is probably the most corrupt transaction in arms-trading history, with Bandar, Thatcher’s son and many others implicated in receiving payments on an epic scale.”

The SFO investigation was unfortunately closed down by Tony Blair, which let the Saudi regime off the hook.

Is there any reason to believe that the Saudi dictators have changed their ways?

Transparency International put it like this: “A lack of transparency and oversight in state finances are also major problems. Some experts suggest that countries with rich natural resources that depend on the sale of those resources rather than tax revenue are less likely to act in an accountable way towards citizens.

This seems to apply to Saudi Arabia, where its general auditing bureau is not answerable to any elected body, leaving outsiders and citizens wondering how much of the state budget ends up in the pockets of the ruling family.”

Only two Premier League clubs are owned by states at the moment. Apart from having owners who oppress their populations with gross human rights abuses, the corrupt practices of these dictatorships could be the beginning of the end for football, if allowed to continue. We are looking over the cliff edge. Is the game to become part of a sportswashing arms race between dictatorships and oligarchs or are we going to reclaim the game?

The recent joint statement between MUST and Spirit of Shankly is important:

“Manchester United and Liverpool supporters unite to call on football White Paper to strengthen club ownership rules. The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) and Spirit of Shankly (SOS) today join forces to call for the forthcoming Government White Paper on Football to strengthen the rules around who can own and run football clubs in England. With the White Paper set to announce the creation of an Independent Regulator of English Football (IREF) which will govern this issue in future, the Government need to put in place stronger rules that can take effect more quickly before the IREF is established.”

As Nick McGeehan of FairSquare said about the rumours of a bid for Manchester United from the Qatari dictatorship: “A Qatari bid for Manchester United or any other major European club should be dismissed out of hand according to UEFA rules aimed at protecting the integrity of its competitions. But will UEFA take its rules more seriously than PL took its rules over Saudi Arabia and Newcastle?”

State ownership of clubs opens the door to corruption and must be opposed. The future of the game is at stake.

Recently, Peter Frankental, Amnesty UK’s economic affairs director said the following:

“It’s been nearly 18 months since the hugely controversial Saudi takeover of Newcastle United and a Qatari bid for Manchester United would be yet another wake-up call to the Premier League over the need to reform its ownership rules. We’re not necessarily opposed to the involvement of state-linked overseas financial consortia in English football, but the Premier League must urgently strengthen ownership rules to ensure they’re human rights-compliant and not an opportunity for more sportswashing.”

NUFCFAS agrees that dictatorships such as Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia should be disqualified from owning clubs because of their appalling human rights records. However, we also believe that NO state should be allowed to own a football club.

The football owners' and directors' test has to include a respecting human rights clause and another prohibiting ownership of clubs by states.

Surely in the North East, NUFC fan groups and Labour MPs can agree to this red line? If football ceases to have a financial level playing field, it is no longer a sport but merely a plaything and sportswashing vehicle for oligarchs and human rights abusing dictatorships. What glory is there in winning anything that way?



Would you like to support us? All funds will go towards the campaign.

 Follow us on Social Media


Contact us