Newcastle takeover is done and dusted but spotlight should stay on human rights | Max Rushden

Hang on. What’s this? Another article about human rights? Didn’t we solve that last week? People said “questions need to be asked”. Some went even further, suggesting that they should be serious questions.

And once you’ve said we must not sweep the abuse of the rights of humans under the carpet – surely then it’s OK to move on and speculate over whether Jamaal Lascelles’ long-term future is under threat from the impending arrival of James Tarkowski.

Human rights is too vague a term. It’s easy to say out loud that you care about it. We like humans. And we like rights. It feels obvious that everyone cares about both.

What seems abundantly clear when something like the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United happens is that it isn’t that simple. A few people don’t actually care at all. Lots of people don’t want to think about it. And some people who said they care seem to apply it on a sliding scale. The further away the human, the less their rights seem to matter.

There’s no sliding scale in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which to my shame I only read for the first time the other day. It wasn’t as entertaining as that Plymouth goal in the rain, but it is arguably more important.

It was written in the aftermath of the second world war and adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948. It contains 30 articles, the first of which states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Also that no one shall be held in slavery, subjected to torture or arbitrary arrest, everyone should be recognised before the law, protected by the law, and given fair hearings. Everyone has the freedom to marry who they choose, and freedom of thought, and freedom of expression.

So let’s ask those serious questions to those involved in this takeover and let’s be a bit more direct.

First the British government.What involvement did you have with the takeover? Did you put pressure on the Premier League to push this through? Did the Saudi state put pressure on you? Should we possibly stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia while they bomb Yemen? £700m of components for bombs and £100m of air-to-surface missiles.

A fan arrives at St James’ Park draped in the flag of Saudi Arabia.
A fan arrives at St James’ Park draped in the flag of Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

The Premier League. Where are you? Where? Say something. To the new consortium, Amanda Staveley and the Reubens. How do you feel about torture? Is there a torture that would put you off a potential business partner?

To the new manager and the players. Is it legitimate to ask questions of players who chooses to move there, or to stay? Is the Steve Bruce line good enough anymore? “Those questions are for politicians.” I don’t know if it is. At some point a player will turn down a move for ethical reasons.

To the fans. It isn’t your fault. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do good. Don’t stop supporting. Don’t stop going. But do remember Jamal Khashoggi – a journalist doing his job who was murdered and dismembered in an embassy. Don’t bury your face in that head covering even the club have told you to take off. To those who protested about Newcastle’s sponsorship deal with a payday loan company on ethical grounds: how can you not protest about this?

I worry that my 18-year-old self wouldn’t care about any of this if it had happened to my club Cambridge United in the late 90s. So I try not to judge. But to United with Pride – do you really think there is “potential to be a positive influence to improving the conditions for the LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia”? You could campaign to improve those rights rather than cosying up to people who actively don’t want you to exist.

To pundits and broadcasters: I can imagine those meetings. I’ve been in them. “We need to touch on human rights and then do the football.” I don’t know the answer, but it can’t just stop after saying you care once. Very few of us went into football to write or talk about this. On Football Weekly we wrestle with how to cover these stories. How much is enough?

Did I ask the same questions about the Manchester City takeover in 2008? I didn’t. It was a month into my Soccer AM tenure – not sure it was the right line of questioning for whichever indie band was on that Saturday. But I have since. However, have I let it slip? Yes. Do I ask enough? No. When Phil Foden clips one deliciously over the defence for an on-running false nine, do you really want to know the stories from Abu Dhabi of arbitrary detention, imprisonment for criticising the government, unfair trials, inferior rights for women – all reported on by Amnesty in 2020? I don’t. But that is what’s happening.

What about the whataboutery? Is it simply enough to call it that and carry on our own lives as normal? Or should each of these trigger moments in our own sphere – be it sport or whatever else – to make us question our life choices? Where was that T-shirt made? What is your pension invested in? Are you a good person?

We all have a line. I certainly couldn’t make a bomb. Maybe the Saudis will stop buying UK ones and buy Mauro Icardi instead. Maybe they’ll stop detaining and torturing women who campaigned for the right to drive a car. Maybe this will change their history forever. You can still enjoy football. But for an accident of birth, you could be a Newcastle fan. But for an accident of birth, you could be in Saudi Arabia. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights covers us all.


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