Posts Tagged ‘sports washing’

Saudi Arabia uses women to spruce up its image: 2 efforts

October 23, 2020

Effort 1: With women’s empowerment topping the agenda at next week’s B20 Summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International is on 23 October 2020 reminding business leaders that many of the country’s bravest women’s rights activists are languishing in prison for daring to demand reforms.  “Since assuming the G20 Presidency Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in rebranding its image.But Saudi Arabia’s real changemakers are behind bars” says Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa

Loujain al Hathloul, Nassima al-Sada, Samar Badawi, Maya’a al-Zahrani, and Nouf Abdulaziz spearheaded women’s rights campaigns, including calling for the right to drive and an end to the repressive male guardianship system. But while Saudi Arabia talks up recent reforms such as the relaxation of social restrictions and the loosening of the guardianship system to court approval from the rich and powerful around the B20, women’s rights activists remain in detention.

Saudi Arabia has publicized the fact that this year, 33 percent of B20 delegates are women – the highest ever contingency. The B20 website states that “Women in Business” will be Saudi Arabia’s “signature topic” as President. “B20 leaders must not be fooled by this shameless hypocrisy, and we call on them to show they care about human rights as much as business opportunities. Any business operating in or with Saudi Arabia has a responsibility to ensure they are not contributing to human rights violations through their activities.” 

The B20 is the official forum for business leaders to present policy recommendations to the G20, ahead of the main summit in November. This year high profile participants include representatives from HSBC, Mastercard, PwC, McKinsey, CISCO, ENI, Siemens, Accenture and BBVA.

Currently, 13 women’s rights defenders remain on trial facing prosecution for their human rights activism. Several face charges of contacting foreign media or international organizations, including Amnesty International. Some were also accused of “promoting women’s rights” and “calling for the end of the male guardianship system”. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/13/saudi-arabia-persist-with-trial-for-women-human-rights-defenders/

Amnesty International has written to businesses participating in the B20 Summit raising serious concerns about the human rights risks of business operations in and with Saudi Arabia, and reminding them of their human rights responsibilities.

We urge B20 delegates also to think carefully about how their brands could be legitimizing human rights violations and endorsing Saudi Arabia’s charm offensive,” said Lynn Maalouf. “If B20 Saudi Arabia was as progressive as it claims, the activists who did so much to secure more rights for women would have a seat at the table.” 

Effort 2: Nineteen NGOs are calling on golf’s Ladies European Tour to reconsider the decision to hold a tournament hosted by Saudi Arabia. Pulling out of the tournament, they explain, would be ab act of solidarity with women’s rights campaigners detained in the Kingdom.

“While we acknowledge that such tournaments represent an important milestone in women’s golf, we are deeply concerned that Saudi Arabia is using this sports event as a public relations tool to sportwash its appalling human rights record, including discrimination against women and the crackdown on women’s rights defenders,” said the NGOs in a letter to the tour organisers.

The event is due to take place in Saudi Arabia from 12 to 19 November, with a cash prize of $1.5 million from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia has faced sustained criticism that it uses major sporting tournaments to deflect from its human rights abuses. The arrest of prominent activist Loujain Al-Hathloul in 2018 and several others was highlighted as a serious concern.

Al-Hathloul’s sister, Lina, took to Twitter with the hashtag #StandWithSaudiHeroes to highlight the punishments that women activists are subjected to simply for demanding basic liberties that are taken for granted elsewhere. [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/07/lina-al-hathloul-speaks-out-for-her-sister-loujain-imprisoned-in-saudi-arabia/]

In a letter penned to the top players on the Ladies European Tour, the 25-year-old described the event as a “grubby charade” as she argued that taking part was akin to giving “tacit endorsement to the Saudi regime and its imprisonment and torture of activists like my sister.”

Al-Hathloul’s imprisonment has been met with international outcry as concerns grow over her fate. Human rights organisations including Amnesty International have alleged that she and other women campaigners have been subjected to torture and sexual harassment, including threats of rape, while in Saudi detention.

The crackdown on female activists by the Saudi government reached its peak when the authorities arrested and detained Al-Hathloul, Eman Al-Nafjan and Aziza Al-Yousef on 15 May, 2018. Just weeks later, other leading women’s rights advocates and feminist figures were also arrested, including Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah.

“We remain concerned that they will not be able to exercise their right to a fair trial in accordance with the international human rights standards, to which Saudi Arabia is obliged to adhere,” wrote the NGOs. The only way to achieve true progress, they added, is to implement real reforms on women’s rights, and immediately release those arrested for defending these rights. “While we hope that Saudi Arabia can indeed develop its interaction with other countries around the world through hosting sports and other events in the Kingdom, we cannot ignore the country’s attempt to conceal its continued detention of women’s rights activists and discrimination against women by hosting a women’s sports tournament.”

Effort 2: The sister of jailed Saudi activist Loujain Al-Hathloul has called on European golf players to boycott the upcoming tournament in Saudi Arabic. In a letter sent to the Independent newspaper, Lina Al-Hathloul begged the top players on the Ladies European Tour to show support for her sister’s plight by not attending golfing events in Saudi Arabia scheduled for November.

In her letter, Lina wrote: “My sister is a women’s rights activist imprisoned and tortured by the Saudi regime. I understand the importance of sports to create links and bridges between different societies. “However, the current Saudi regime uses sports to whitewash its crimes, to have a window to the West, while maintaining and even worsening women’s conditions inside the country.

Don’t go to Saudi Arabia, don’t help that barbaric regime launder its reputation through your excellence. Stand in solidarity with women’s rights activists. Boycott the Ladies European Tour events in Saudi Arabia.

I am begging you, as a woman, as a person of conscience and as a role model – please boycott the Saudi women’s tour event.

—–

Support Loujain Hathloul by boycotting Saudi event, European golfers urged

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/10/with-women-activists-jailed-saudi-b20-summit-is-a-sham/

Saudi-backed investors pull out of Newcastle deal

July 31, 2020

Many media outlets have reported on this (here Yahoo): the Saudi-backed consortium has withdrawn its bid for Newcastle United [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/30/newcastles-takeover-bid-from-saudi-arabia-welcomed-by-many-fans-but-it-remains-sportswashing/

“With a deep appreciation for the Newcastle community and the significance of its football club, we have come to the decision to withdraw our interest in acquiring Newcastle United Football Club,” the group said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the prolonged process under the current circumstances coupled with global uncertainty has rendered the potential investment no longer commercially viable.”

The takeover bid had been condemned by Amnesty International and Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, over Saudi’s human rights record, putting pressure on the Premier League not to give it the green light in its owners’ and directors’ test.

This is a victory for human rights and decency and clear defeat for Mohamed Bin Salman and his efforts to sportswash his human rights record,” said Cengiz in a statement.

“Let this defeat send a strong message to the leadership in Saudi Arabia that they will not be able to use their money to cover up their human rights record.”

The Premier League has not yet commented.

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/saudi-backed-investors-pull-newcastle-deal-165956341–spt.html

https://www.sportsmax.tv/index.php/football/international/item/67063-newcastle-united-takeover-collapse-down-to-other-premier-league-clubs-staveley

https://www.startribune.com/saudis-newcastle-bid-ends-after-piracy-human-rights-issues/571956372/?refresh=true

Hay Festival in Emirates promotes freedom of expression but not for its citizens

February 26, 2020

As the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi opens on February 25–28, 2020 in the United Arab Emirates, we the undersigned call on the Emirati authorities to demonstrate their respect for the right to freedom of expression by freeing all human rights defenders imprisoned for expressing themselves peacefully online, including academics, writers, a poet, and lawyers. In the context of the Hay Festival, the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance is promoting a platform for freedom of expression, while keeping behind bars Emirati citizens and residents who shared their own views and opinions. We support the efforts of festival participants to speak up in favor of all those whose voices have been silenced in the UAE. We further support calls for the UAE authorities to comply with international standards for prisoners, including by allowing prisoners of conscience to receive books and reading materials.The country’s most prominent human rights defender, Ahmed Mansoor, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted on the spurious charge of “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols including its leaders” in reprisal for his peaceful human rights activism, including posts on social media. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ahmed-mansoor/]……

Other prisoners have been tortured in prison in the UAE. A Polish fitness expert, Artur Ligęska, was held in the same isolation ward as Mansoor, in conditions he described as “medieval.” After his charges were dismissed and he was freed in May 2019, Ligęska wrote a book in which he recounted the prison conditions in Al-Sadr’s isolation wing, where prisoners were held without running water for many months in very unhygienic conditions, and some were subjected to torture, abuse, and sexual assault. He was instrumental in getting the news about Mansoor’s hunger strike out to the world from prison in March 2019, at great personal risk.

Other human rights defenders have faced similar mistreatment in prison, where they are often held in isolation, resorting to hunger strikes to try to bring attention to their unjust imprisonment and ill-treatment in detention, such as human rights lawyers Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken and Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansoori...

,,,

The Hay Festival Abu Dhabi is supported by the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance in a country that does not tolerate dissenting voices. Regrettably, the UAE government devotes more effort to concealing its human rights abuses than to addressing them and invests heavily in the funding and sponsorship of institutions, events, and initiatives that are aimed at projecting a favorable image to the outside world.

With the world’s eyes on the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi, we urge the Emirati government to consider using this opportunity to unconditionally release our jailed friends and colleagues, and in the interim, to at least allow prisoners of conscience to receive books and reading materials, to have regular visits with family, to be allowed outside of their isolation cells to visit the canteen or go outside in the sun. In particular, we ask that Ahmed Mansoor be given a bed and a mattress so that he no longer has to sleep on the floor, and that prison officials cease punishing him for public appeals that are made on his behalf. We ask the authorities to improve their prison conditions as a sign of goodwill and respect for people who wish to organize and participate in events in the UAE, such as the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi or the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai, in the future. By doing so, the UAE would demonstrate that the Hay Festival is an opportunity to back up its promise of tolerance with actions that include the courageous contributors to freedom of expression who live in the country. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/26/celebrity-endorsements-and-the-dubai-expo-on-the-one-hand-and-the-other/]

for names see: https://pen.org/open-letter-ngos-and-individuals-to-uae-authorities/

Newcastle’s takeover bid from Saudi Arabia welcomed by many fans but it remains ‘sportswashing’

January 30, 2020

On Monday 27 January 2020, Football365.com carried the story about Amnesty International calling the take-over of footbal club Newcastle by Saudi Arabia a case of ‘sportswashing’. Two days later the BBC reported on the conflicting feelings within the supporters group.

A Saudi takeover of Newcastle United would be “sportswashing, plain and simple” according to human rights body Amnesty International.The Premier League club are in talks with two potential buyers, including a consortium which features the Saudi Arabian Sovereign Wealth Fund, controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia has recently engaged on a large scale in buying a positive image with events such as Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight boxing match against Andy Ruiz, Spain’s Super Cup and the Dakar ralley.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/13/saudi-arabia-finds-that-celebrities-are-easier-to-buy-than-human-rights-ngos/ ]

Amnesty sees this as an attempt to use sport to clean up its image, describing the country’s human rights record as “abysmal”.“ It’s not for us to say who should own Newcastle, but players, back-room staff and fans alike ought to see this for what it is – sportswashing, plain and simple,” Amnesty’s UK head of campaigns Felix Jakens said.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is considering a £340million bid by the consortium, which is led by Amanda Staveley a businesswoman and financier, who failed to buy the club two years ago.

(Premier League club Sheffield United are also owned by Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. And Amnesty have also criticised Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owners for “sportswashing” their country’s “deeply tarnished image” by pouring money into the Premier League champions. See e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/07/ahmed-mansoor-ten-years-jail-for-tweeting-and-a-street-named-after-you/)

Also Khashoggi’s fiance came out against the sale: https://english.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2020/4/29/khashoggi-fiancee-slams-saudi-takeover-of-newcastle-united

Amnesty International labels Newcastle takeover bid ‘sportswashing’

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/51299845

see also: https://www.metro.news/deep-pockets-matter-more-to-fans-than-human-rights/1893025/

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

Saudi Arabia finds that celebrities are easier to buy than human rights NGOs

January 13, 2020

On 13 January 2020 Amnesty International has released a joint statement, along with Transparency International and Civicus, [https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ior30/1649/2020/en/] explaining why it will not be engaging in this year’s C20 process, a cycle of preparatory meetings leading up to the annual G20 summit, which  started yesterday with a three-day “kick-off meeting”.

“The C20 is supposed to provide a platform for civil society voices from around the world to influence the G20 agenda. Since Saudi Arabia has locked up most of its own independent activists, the only domestic organizations present will be aligned with the government – which makes a mockery of the whole process,” said Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International. “The C20 in Riyadh is a sham. We cannot participate in a process which is being abused by a state which censors all free speech, criminalizes activism for women’s and minority rights, as well as homosexuality, and tortures and executes critics.”

Saudi Arabia took over the G20 presidency in December 2019. It has recently invested in expensive PR campaigns to improve its image, and hosted several high-profile sporting events which draw international visitors [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/04/dakar-rally-starts-on-5-january-in-jeddah-but-hrds-in-jail/]. But behind this carefully cultivated façade, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is as appalling as ever. Saudi Arabia is responsible for the extrajudicial execution of the journalist and peaceful critic Jamal Khashoggi. More than a year after his murder in October 2018, there has been no justice or accountability for his death. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/27/saudi-arabia-continues-to-buy-celebrities-this-time-for-the-mdl-beast-festival/]

The country’s leading women’s rights activists remain behind bars and on trial for their promotion of women’s rights in the country. Scores of other individuals, including human rights defenders, have been serving lengthy prison terms for their peaceful activism or have been arbitrarily detained for up to a year and a half without charges. The Saudi Arabian authorities have also carried out executions following unfair trials and routine torture and other ill-treatment in custody.

The Saudi-led C20 process has already failed to guarantee the C20’s fundamental principles. The appointment of the Chairs of working groups and various committees was opaque and non-consultative, while arbitrary decisions have excluded experienced international groups. The C20 process is led by the King Khalid Foundation, which is connected to the Saudi Royal Family, and cannot be considered as transparent, inclusive and participatory. Since the Saudi authorities ban political parties, trade unions and independent human rights groups, there is no way the C20 meetings can be the free and open discussions they are designed to be.

The full statement is available here

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

January 4, 2020

Annual reports 2019: Sport and Human Rights

December 29, 2019

Mary Harvey, CEO, the Centre for Sport and Human Rights

The 4th annual report 2019 I would like to mention comes in the form of a preface by Mary Harvey of Sports and Human Rights [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/12/mary-harvey-her-goal-is-now-human-rights/]

As my first year leading the Centre for Sport and Human Rights comes to a close, I wanted to reflect on some of what we have achieved in 2019 as we look ahead to where we need to make further progress in 2020. At the 2018 Sporting Chance Forum in Paris, I said we were at a point where the sport and human rights movement had been mobilised, and it was important to translate the theory of change behind the Centre’s creation into concrete action.

The opportunity to demonstrate this came sooner than expected. Prior to my start in January, many of our stakeholders raised the concerning case of the detainment and possible refoulement of refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi, and rightly asked how the Centre was going to respond. My first week on the job, the Centre convened calls to bring together sports bodies, governments, IGOs, corporates, and civil society with the sole objective of freeing Hakeem. The combined efforts and collective action of the Centre, Advisory Council and others not only played an important role in freeing Hakeem, but provided a powerful and indelible example of what we can achieve together..

Building on the resources developed as part of the MSE Platform, our work in 2019 set out to put these tools into action, including by helping strengthen the capacity of those working most closely with sport. We developed new tools which are now with you for consultation (Games Time Risk Guide, Championing Human Rights into the Governance of Sports Bodies – annex specific to Multi-sport governing bodies). In September, we had the opportunity to deliver human rights training to the 53 national federations that make up the Commonwealth Sport family. We also engaged prospective bidding countries for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Finally, we held briefing calls with our broadcaster stakeholders on human rights issues at events taking place in countries such as Azerbaijan, China and Saudi Arabia.

In May of this year, with the landmark decision from CAS ruling against Caster Semenya, it became clear that human rights awareness needed to be raised and capacity built for those who give legal advice to sports bodies. As part of our developing work on Remedy this year and to begin this important conversation, the Centre hosted a workshop for sports law practitioners with our colleagues at Clifford Chance. The event more than met expectations, with consistent feedback from attendees who welcomed debate on an important topic in need of serious engagement.  We are pleased that, with the support of colleagues at Clifford Chance, the workshop will be an annual event going forward.

We took our first steps during 2019 to work with partners in Africa by hosting a workshop in Rabat, Morocco which brought together a number of sports bodies and national human rights institutions from both anglophone and francophone countries on the continent. We took further steps in developing our Africa Strategy by hosting 16 African National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) at an event in Rwanda to discuss child rights and remedy.

On children, the Centre expanded its own capacity by appointing our first senior thematic expert. Millions of children and young people take part in sporting activities every day across the world, and they have the right to participate in sport in a safe and enjoyable environment. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. One of the first actions the Centre took on child rights was to successfully lobby to ensure that references to sport were included in the Guidelines to Optional Protocol 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

——

More on Ozil and self censorship by western companies

December 20, 2019

deputy director of research at Chinese Human Rights Defenders) Arsenal player was right to speak up, and western companies should remember that staying silent is no guarantee of China’s favour. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/16/china-arsenal-ozil-and-freedom-of-expression/]

Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil posted to his millions of social media fans about the persecution of Uighurs in China.
Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil posted to his millions of social media fans about the persecution of Uighurs in China. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

..Arsenal’s response has been a cynical attempt to placate government-manufactured outrage in the pursuit of profits over principles. Executives should remember that critical Chinese voices face detention and censorship. Following in the footsteps of many brands that adopted the Chinese Communist party (CCP) political stance, the club released a Chinese-language statement that “The content published is Özil’s personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.” The statement still does not appear on its English-language social media accounts or website.

As many NBA fans found out in October, when the Houston Rockets manager sparked a major crisis for briefly supporting the Hong Kong protestors, sports clubs are not prepared to stand up to the Chinese government for fear that it will shut down a significant source of revenue. Though global football institutions stayed silent when Uighur footballer Erfan Hezim was sent to an internment camp, they should not look away now that one of the sport’s most prominent players has forced the issue. China will host the 2021 Club World Cup and Xi Jinping has his eye on hosting the World Cup. Human rights abuses should not be swept under the rug.

No matter how much brands grovel to the Chinese government, they will always be vulnerable to nationalist sentiment inflamed by the Communist party that has tied its legitimacy on having led the country out of its “century of national humiliation”. Self-censorship is not a guarantee of protection for western brands and only exposes their hypocrisy to fans back home in democracies. Instead of falsely claiming they do not involve themselves in politics, Arsenal should use this opportunity to stand up for human rights.

https://www.theguardian.com/football/commentisfree/2019/dec/18/mesut-ozil-china-row-western-brands-be-warned-self-censorship-wont-protect-you

China, Arsenal, Ozil and freedom of expression…

December 16, 2019

On 16 December 2019 wrote in the Guardian “Craven Arsenal abandon Mesut Özil over his stance on China’s Uighur persecution“.  He argued that the midfielder is in tune with human rights groups over the imprisonment of millions of Uighurs but the club chose to raise a white flag. The incident touches on more than the freedom of expression of an individual player. ‘Sports washing’ (see earlier posts:  https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-washing/) is a widespread phenomenon to which Arsenal itself in no stranger. It plays in the Emirates Stadium and in Emirates T-shirts (in a 280 million $ deal) without ever mentioning Ahmed Mansoor the UAE’s most prominent political prisoner [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/07/ahmed-mansoor-ten-years-jail-for-tweeting-and-a-street-named-after-you/]

A demonstrator in Istanbul holds up a picture of Arsenal’s Mesut Özil who expressed his horror at China’s treatment of the Uighurs.

On the Chinese social media site Weibo Arsenal quicly posted that Özil’s comments were merely his “personal opinion” and reminding that “Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics”. The article nicely quotes Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports enterprise at Salford University who specialises in China: “The world is in the midst of an ideological battle: western liberalism versus eastern authoritarianism. And sport is one of the front lines.”

Also saying it is just a personal opinion, seems a bit much:  Özil was entirely in tune with a United Nations panel and multiple human rights groups who have spoken out about the imprisonment of millions of Uighur people in internment camps without trial for “re-education” in what has been described as the largest incarceration of one ethnic group since the Holocaust, with multiple accounts of torture, rape and abuse from eyewitnesses who have passed through.

Celebrities have been criticised for NOT speaking out when they insist on touring human rights violating regimes (e.g. only last week Anthony Joshua was widely criticised for not speaking out about human rights in Saudi Arabia and Mariah Carey in July this year [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/10/nicki-minaj-did-the-right-thing-and-cancelled-her-performance-in-saudi-arabia/]. states” Yet can you blame sportspeople for staying quiet when they see Özil bravely raising his head above the parapet only to be shot down by his own club? As for Arsenal not involving themselves in politics, what did the club think they were doing when they agreed a £30m deal with the Rwandan government to promote tourism?

It would seem that what is ‘political’ is mostly determined by the sensitivity and power of the country being targeted. And in the case of China there is very little margin. Whether it is the according of awards to dissidents or accepting statements on Hong Kong by NBA officials [see more generally: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/12/06/china-and-its-amazing-sensitivity-on-human-rights-defenders/]. As stated: The decision by CCTV not to show Arsenal’s match against Manchester City is another reminder that there is no middle ground here. No way to stick up for human rights and free speech without angering China. You are either for such values or against them.

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/dec/16/arsenal-mesut-ozil-uighurs-china