Saudi-Purchased UK Soccer Team, Fans Hit by Claims of ‘Sportswashing,’ Racism, Appropriation
The Metropolitan Police in London is investigating the holding up of an allegedly racist banner by Crystal Palace F.C. fans critical of the Saudi takeover of the rival Newcastle United F.C. The banner was displayed at a game between the two soccer teams, held in Selhurst Park Stadium. It showed a man dressed in traditional Arab clothing holding a bloody machete next to a businessman standing over a bag of money dripping with blood. An “owners test” checklist on the controversial sign referred to “terrorism,” “beheadings,” “civil rights abuses,” “murder,” “censorship,” and “persecution.” The Premier League approved the sale of the Newcastle team for £305 million ($420 million) earlier this month, with the majority bought by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world. Human rights groups criticized the sale as an example of “sportswashing” – the use of sports to improve the tarnished image of an individual, group, corporation or state. Just days ago, the new owners of the club reversed an earlier call for fans to refrain from dressing in Saudi garb – a practice that could be considered insensitive, insulting, or an act of cultural appropriation – to celebrate the purchase of the team. After fans started showing up at games in kaffiyehs and Arab robes, the team asked that they not do so if they would “not ordinarily wear such attire.” But a later statement welcomed the gesture, saying that “the new owners have been overwhelmed by the welcome of the local community, following the acquisition of the club two weeks ago” and that “those who wish to support the club by wearing appropriate culturally-inspired clothing should feel free to do so as they see fit.”
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