News   |    October 25th, 2021


Politics and Sport have never been good bedfellows.

The reality is that most major sporting competitions would exclude certain nations if an assessment was made of their political actions and their record on issues like human rights for example. It is for this reason that sport has tried to avoid involving itself in politics. Football in this country has followed that path for many years and governing bodies have been largely ambivalent on the subject.

When I first started watching Charlton in 1960 most clubs at that time were owned by successful local businesspeople but the worldwide popularity and growth of the Premier League in particular has sucked in the world’s top players and the significant foreign investment in clubs has served to heighten that. Money now rules and so much so that our so called Big Six clubs were prepared to put at risk the future of the Premier League itself in the pursuit of yet more and more money.

These are the very same clubs who with one exception have opposed the takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund and now seek to restrict the sponsorship deals Newcastle can do through Middle East companies. Is it an outpouring of moral indignation by these clubs or is it that they are concerned at the impact the Saudi money will have on the league competition? That is something every person reading this article must judge for themselves.

When the Premier League chairmen meet in November to discuss this issue further, they will need to consider why it is acceptable to have other Middle East owners and Etihad and Emirates sponsored stadia for example. Clubs that have entered into sponsorship agreements with Middle East companies will need to justify that and clarify the difference.

The truth is that most fans dream about having wealthy owners and large overseas sponsorship deals and the success that might bring to their club. They would prefer to park any moral and ethical issues if their club is the beneficiary but many then cry foul when a rival club is involved.

The Premier League is at a crossroads on foreign ownership. Do they add a political assessment to their owners and directors test and use that to reject owners based on their human rights record for example? If they do who makes the final judgement? Is it the chairmen of other clubs? Is it based on Foreign Office advice? Will the courts have to decide? Are the Premier League satisfied that the political record of its existing owners stands up to the closest scrutiny?

When you mix politics and sport the victim is usually sport. The Premier League needs to decide if this is a path they want to take as it will open up a can of worms for them and their member clubs.

We all have to soul search and balance what we want for our club and what we think is right morally and ethically right for the sport we all love and that is no easy task.

Image – Getty Images

Peter Varney - Chairman, Integral Sports Management.

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