Menu

InstagramTwitterYouTubeFacebookSnapchat
Globe Icon
Join and support
LGBT+ journalism

Join

and support
LGBT+ journalism

Opinion

Homophobic Saudi Arabia taking over Newcastle United could undo all the progress football has made with the LGBT+ community

Jack Duncan July 2, 2020

Rainbow laces are seen during the Premier League match between Watford and Stoke City at Vicarage Road on November 27, 2016 in Watford, England. (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Gay football fan Jack Duncan, co-founder of Blank Canvas Travel, writes for PinkNews about how devastating the proposed takeover of Newcastle United by a Saudi Arabian consortium would be for LGBT+ fans, considering the country’s atrocious queer rights record.

During Sunday evening’s (June 28) FA Cup quarter-final between Newcastle United and Manchester City, England legend Alan Shearer claimed a “majority of people” would like to see the Premier League sanction a move by Saudi Public Investment Fund (a corporate proxy of the Saudi Arabian government) to take over St James’ Park.

I highly doubt many LGBTQ people would agree.

Saudi Arabia is ranked among the very worst countries when it comes to queer rights and is one of 13 countries where engaging in same-sex activity can result in the death penalty.

It’s not just gay and bi men who suffer here either – the totalitarian kingdom is also infamous for oppressing women and racial minorities.

Shearer’s comment, and the thoughtless way in which he delivered it, is a depressing but far too common occurrence.  

In many ways, Alan Shearer’s attitude sums up the problem of money versus morals in football.

The intense competition at the top of the game has led teams to chase a quick buck wherever they can find it. Many will be OK letting support for the LGBTQ community slide if it means their club is able to make a big money signing.

However, as upsetting as Shearer’s comments are, the buck stops with the Premier League itself.

The “fit-and-proper-person test” was introduced back in 2004 with the implication being that it would prevent takeovers such as this. Yet the process failed to stop the acquisition of Manchester City by the corporate arm of the Abu Dhabi government — another famously homophobic regime — back in 2008. 

Amnesty International, which also condemned the City takeover, have once again implored the Premier League to block the Saudi move for Newcastle, claiming it risks turning the league into “a patsy for those who want to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the global footballing community”.

It’s all well and good changing corner flags to Pride flags once a year and asking players to wear rainbow laces – but it is utterly meaningless if you then reward such an apologetically homophobic regime with the keys to one of the country’s most famous football clubs.

This case also highlights the growing problem of large organisations “talking the talk” when it comes to supporting the queer community but failing to “walk the walk”.

It’s all well and good changing corner flags to Pride flags once a year and asking players to wear rainbow laces – but it is utterly meaningless if you then reward such an apologetically homophobic regime with the keys to one of the country’s most famous football clubs.

It’s been 12 years since the City takeover. Things should have changed.

Some I’ve spoken to have asked, “well, what’s different about this compared with the City takeover”, and it’s a valid question.

I’d argue that on top of the the fact that Saudi Arabia is objectively worse when it comes to queer tolerance than the UAE, 12 years is a long time when it comes to the relationship between professional sport and LGBTQ causes.

The support at both governing and club level for awareness causes like the Stonewall Rainbow Laces campaign has grown exponentially over the last decade, as has support among fans. Indeed, a 2016 survey reported that 82% of football fans would have no issue with a player at their club being gay. 

Another change is that LGBT+ football fans are less willing to hide themselves away, and more are willing to speak up in the face of discrimination.

In 2008 there were no LGBT+ fans groups affiliated with any professional clubs in England, but since the establishment of Arsenal’s “Gay Gooners” in 2013, such groups have grown in number to around 20. 

In short, queer people are less willing to accept the disconnect between the rhetoric of sporting governing bodies and their actions when it matters.

Imagine what message this decision would send to professionals who may be weighing up whether or not to come out publicly.

The usual excuse will be made that “politics and sport should be kept separate,” but it’s time we stopped allowing this cop out. 

The Premier League is by far the most watched football league on the planet — what happens here resonates around the world. Premier League bosses, and football pundits like Alan Shearer, know that.

Statements matter. If good representation can create allies, then it stands to reason that the negative image of declaring an infamously homophobic government a “fit and proper” owner risks emboldening homophobes and undoing a substantial amount of the progress made over the last decade.

It’s upsetting and alienating enough for me as a 31-year-old gay football fan — so, imagine then, what message this decision would send young fans and players, not to mention professionals who may be weighing up whether or not to come out publicly. 

With the Premier League entering the final stages of its assessment before announcing its decision, it’s important that we as LGBT+ people — sports fans or otherwise — make our objections to this move known.

We need to show powerful organisations like the Premier League that what we are watching closely — and we don’t like what we see.

The Premier League has come on leaps and bounds in recent years when it comes to talking a good game with regards queer rights — but will it pass its first real test of the decade? Time will tell. 

I for one implore them to do the right thing — no matter how much it may upset Alan Shearer.

 

More: football, Newcastle, Opinion, Saudi Arabia, UK

Swipe sideways to view more posts!

Dismiss

Loading ...

Close icon