Posts Tagged ‘Dakar Rally’

Dakar Rally: sports washing par excellence

January 15, 2020

AlKhaleej Today on 14 January 2020 carries an interesting post by Anthony Harwood, a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail, entitled: Dakar Rally opens dark new chapter in Saudi sportswashing“. Here some long excerpts listing some of the many sports events which Saudi Arabia has been buying, but with the main focus on the Dakar Rally. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/04/dakar-rally-starts-on-5-january-in-jeddah-but-hrds-in-jail/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/13/saudi-arabia-finds-that-celebrities-are-easier-to-buy-than-human-rights-ngos/].

..But regrettable also that the organisers of the race, France’s Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), have chosen not to say or do anything which might upset the host country, Saudi Arabia, and spark headlines around the world.  There was once a time when campaigners would call on sportsmen and women to boycott Riyadh when asked to play there, much as happened when “rebel tours” of South Africa were announced during the apartheid era. But that changed when the desert kingdom began offering huge sums of money that footballers, wrestlers, tennis players, snooker players and golfers were finding hard to turn down. 

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International realised that calling for a boycott was never going to work when the lure of the Saudi riyal was so great and promoters could point to how companies like House of Fraser, Gucci, Chanel and Starbucks are already trading in Saudi Arabia, so what’s all the fuss?  Instead, campaign groups asked that anyone who went to Riyadh spoke out while they were there about the country’s appalling human rights abuses….

As Ines Osman, director of the MENA Rights Group, said: “These activists, and countless others, have paid the price of their freedom for the state’s ‘social change’ narrative. Competitors and sports fans must speak up, as silence allows Riyadh’s soft power tactics to wash away human rights abuses, shutting down the voices of Saudi human rights defenders.” 

The term ‘sportswashing’ has entered the lexicon as a way to describe how countries such as Saudi Arabia use sport to wash away the stains on their reputation and pretend everything in the garden is rosy.  To do this they lure sports stars and celebrities to their country with huge sums of money; only on Friday the manager of Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde, admitted that the only reason the Spanish Super Cup was being hosted in Riyadh was because of the money on offer.  Likewise, the British boxer, Anthony Joshua, got $86m to agree to last month’s world heavyweight title fight with Andy Ruiz Jnr in Saudi Arabia. 

..In November the Dakar director, David Castera, claimed there had been hesitation before choosing Saudi Arabia for the rally, but didn’t elaborate on what the “many guarantees” were which had held things up.  He also noted that Dakar was not the first sporting event to be held in Saudi, which of course is true, and is why the Saudis continue to spend a fortune attracting high-profile competitors: so it becomes normalised. 

The Saudi authorities have said they hope broadcasts of the race – showing the country’s beautiful expanses of desert, mountains and coastline – will provide a boost to its tourist industry. The sports minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, said accusations of sportswashing are wrong because his country was always criticised for “not opening up to the world”. What a crass thing to say. By opening up, we don’t mean gawping at the Saudi desert.  By opening up we mean having a transparent judicial system where a trial which allows the organisers of Khashoggi’s murder to escape punishment can be scrutinised.  By opening up we mean allowing a cross-party group of British members of parliament access to women’s rights activists detained in Saudi Arabia, as well as their guards, following claims they have been tortured and sexually assaulted while in jail.  By opening up we mean allowing an examination of how the Saudi-led coalition have carried out unlawful attacks in Yemen, restricted access to humanitarian aid, carried out arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and child recruitment. 

It’s sad that not one of those drivers from 62 nations had so much as a pink armband between them when they set off from Jeddah on 5 January on what the Saudi media proudly call ‘Chapter 3’ in the race’s history.  If they don’t find their voices by the time they reach Riyadh on Friday – and I’m not holding my breath – the start of a five year contract to hold the race in Saudi Arabia will actually mark the most shameful stretch of the Dakar Rally’s history. 

For more of my posts on sports washing: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-washing/

https://alkhaleejtoday.co/saudi-arabia/21704/Dakar-Rally-opens-dark-new-chapter-in-Saudi-sportswashing.html

Dakar Rally starts on 5 January in Jeddah but HRDs in jail

January 4, 2020

Andrew Anderson: “The Dangerous Game of Sportswashing”

May 22, 2019

On 26 April 2019 Andrew Anderson of Front Line Defenders did – rightly – not mince his words in a piece drawing attention to the growing phenomenon of sports washing. In February 2019 I drew already attention to this in a post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/01/sports-and-human-rights-focus-on-sports-washing-big-names-play-for-big-money/.

Anderson’s “Gloss, Not Glory: The Dangerous Game of Sportswashing” says it more eloquently:

Brutal and corrupt dictatorships trying to use sport to improve their image is nothing new, as The Guardian noted in February when it compared club ownership and the Champions League to Mussolini and the 1934 World Cup. However, the absurd news that the Dakar Rally will take place in Saudi Arabia in 2020 – compounded by reports that an offer is under consideration to bring the Spanish Super Cup to the same country in a €30 million per year, 6-year deal- brings blood drenched sportswashing to new depths.


Protest graffitti against the Formula One race in Bahrain.

As the International Federation for Human Rights reported the Dakar Rally announcement comes not only in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi and amidst Saudi war crimes in Yemen, but as women human rights defenders are being tortured in detention for campaigning, amongst other things, for the right of women to drive. The same Saudi rulers who order the killings and torture are seeking to buy positive coverage through sport. “The same Saudi rulers who order the killings and torture are seeking to buy positive coverage through sport.”

As someone who was at Wembley in 1992 to see Barcelona lift their first European Cup, it is particularly galling to contemplate the Cruyff-inspired masters of the beautiful game being dragged into the sportswashing of Mohammad bin Salman. The Barcelona slogan is “More Than a Club” and is explicitly linked to both values and social change. It is difficult to reconcile these noble aspirations with a PR exercise for a misogynist regime, itself the antithesis of those values.

We are, of course, already far down the slippery slope. The rulers of the UAE have also long-used sport as part of their self-promotion. The owners of Manchester City and the sponsors of Real Madrid are similarly involved in war crimes in Yemen, and routinely detain and torture those who dare to speak out for human rights. Ahmed Mansoor, winner of the Martin Ennals Prize in 2015 for his peaceful work for human rights, is currently on hunger strike in protest against prison conditions and his sentencing to 10 years in prison after an unfair trial. Front Line Defenders is gravely concerned for his health and is calling for his release.

Sunday, 28th April, Formula One will hold the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku. The Azeri dictator, Ilham Aliyev, who routinely detains human rights defenders and journalists, is also President of the country’s Olympic committee. He has embraced sportswashing enthusiastically. Azerbaijan hosted the European Games in 2015 under the auspices of the European Olympic Committees. The 2019 European Games are to be in Belarus. The Formula One calendar also includes Bahrain, Abu Dhabi (UAE) and China, all countries where Front Line Defenders is campaigning for the release of unjustly detained human rights defenders.


Protest against first European Games in Baku in 2015.

Many sports fans will shrug their shoulders and say that money is awash in international sport, and what can you do? The International Olympic Committee and football’s world governing body FIFA have been mired in corruption scandals and the use of international sporting events and national Olympic committees have long been seen by dictators, authoritarians and fascists as tools for advancing propaganda. But it is surely time to draw a line in the sand, and where better to do it than Saudi Arabia? The Dakar Rally should not take place there while women human rights defenders like Lujain Al-Hathloul are detained and tortured. And the Spanish Football authorities must reject the proposed Saudi deal in spite of the vast sums of money on the table.

Sportswashing is more than a game, it is a corrupt exercise of cover-up and repression. And sport must reject the tyrants.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/blog/post/gloss-not-glory-dangerous-game-sportswashing