8.7 C
-0.6 C
Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Why potential Qatar takeover is dividing Manchester United fans

- Advertisement -

Co-director of human rights group FairSquare, Nick McGeehan, says a Qatar-led takeover of Manchester United would be “tremendously dangerous” for both the club and the city amid a bid from one of the country’s high-ranked bankers, Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani. The February statement confirming his debt-free offer said the bid would privately funded through his ‘Nine Two Foundation’, adding: “The bid plans to return the club to its former glories both on and off the pitch, and — above all — will seek to place the fans at the heart of Manchester United Football Club once more.” Ineos billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe is the other confirmed takeover bidder. The proposal from Sheikh Jassim has garnered a lot of support on social media although some United fans are uneasy with the prospect of their club being owned by a Qatari businessman with strong links to the state amid human rights concerns in the nation. READ MORE: United share price slumps amid suggestions the Glazers may stay Sheikh Jassim would argue – if there was ever a need to – that he is a private investor, separate from the state and thus separate to Qatar Sports Investments, the Qatari government’s investment subsidiary which owns PSG, which would allow a bid to get past any Uefa red tape around the same investors owning two clubs in the same European competition (the Champions League). The truth is that Sheikh Jassim is the son of Qatar’s former prime minister and is also the head of one of the largest Qatari banks, the Qatar Islamic Bank. The largest shareholder in that bank is Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. There is no getting away from the fact that there are numerous links between Sheikh Jassim and the wealth of the Qatari state. FairSquare penned a letter to Uefa president Aleksander Cerefin, urging him to block a Qatar-led takeover of United just hours before Sheikh Jassim made his bid public. McGeehan told the Manchester Evening News that FairSquare is “not surprised” by the bid but has grave concerns over the ramifications of a potential Qatari takeover. “There are obvious reasons why the Qataris would want a club like Manchester United – Manchester United is the type of club that obviously they would want to use as a vehicle for their interests,” he said. “I do think it’s tremendously dangerous and sets a precedent for English and European football. Then there’s ramifications for Manchester the city itself, which I think need to be considered. “You’ve got two great Manchester institutions, [Manchester] City and United, in a city that has a proud history for all sorts of social issues, and is a city that wears that on its sleeve. “And here you’re going to have a situation where both of those clubs are going to be owned by abusive, corrupt states that are using them not because of any interest in football or any desire to make money, but for political ends and to exercise political power. “That is not a situation that Manchester, the city, wants to be in. You would hope and think there might be some level of leadership or expressions of concern from political figures within Manchester about this bid.” A fair portion of FairSquare’s work has centred on human rights issues in Gulf states, including the welfare of migrant workers and unfair trial cases. McGeehan explained that the group decided to send a letter to Uefa because “authoritarian and sport and human rights are now inextricably linked and football is being taken under the control of authoritarian states and we need to bring it back to the system by where it is properly governed.” He added: “The ownership of a football club is a really effective way of deflecting criticism from your human rights abuses. They’re also a really good way of establishing political influence and power within Europe, and that makes it very difficult to advocate on human rights issues.” Uefa rules do not allow clubs with the same owner to compete in the same European competition, albeit permitted RB Leipzig and RB Salzburg to face each other in the Europa League in 2018. PSG owners Qatar Sports Investments is a subsidiary of the state-funded Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), which has the country’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, as its ultimate head. The QIA has a 17 per cent stake in the QIB, of which United bidder Sheikh Jassim leads. Sheikh Jassim’s representatives say his bid is privately funded, although McGeehan says the suggestion that his proposal is not linked with the State of Qatar is “ridiculous”, and was something FairSquare highlighted in its letter to Uefa. “No vehicle that is capable of this (Sheikh Jassim’s bid) could convincingly demonstrate that it is independent from the Qatari state,” McGeehan said. “The idea that Sheikh Jassim Al Thani is not a frontman for the Qatar state is preposterous.” United beat Newcastle in the League Cup final last weekend, over a year on from the the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s acquisition of the North East club. McGeehan argues that United’s mass revenue means that the club doesn’t need Qatari money to achieve future success though, as evidenced by their own current cup and league form. Newcastle were bought out in 2021 (Image: Dan Mullan/Getty Images) “They’re in the cup final on Sunday, they didn’t need Saudi money to get there – they’ve done that despite all the money that has been taken out of the club by the Glazers and doing pretty well in the league,” he continued. “They are one of the few clubs in the world that can stand up against it and say no to it. Why do you need to become a front, a vehicle, for the political ends of these autocrats and abusive state when you’re already doing ok? I don’t quite get the clamour from some quarters to accept this money.” McGeehan said United fans in opposition to a Qatari takeover have an opportunity to make their voice heard. “One of the things that could convince the Qataris not to come in is for the fans to express any strong opposition to takeover, so they do have influence if they do choose to exert it. “If fans are upset about this, write to your MP and ask them to express their opposition to it and explain why you are in opposition to it. Fans should not at any stage think that they are not influential, they are and they can make their voice heard.” It’s not only FairSquare which has been voicing its concern over a potential Qatar-led takeover. Amnesty International released a statement earlier in February, stating that such a move would be a “sportswashing project”. And now, in light of the confirmed bid from Sheikh Jassim, Amnesty International UK’s Economic Affairs Director, Peter Frankental, told MEN Sport that it is “another urgent reminder” of the need for reformed ownership rules. “Fan groups are right to be concerned that a Qatari buy-out of Manchester United is likely to be part of a wider programme of Qatari sportswashing where the glamour of football is used to refashion the country’s image regardless of serious and systematic human rights abuses,” Frankental said. “The Qatar World Cup has come and gone, yet we’re still waiting for reforms to improve the lives of exploited migrant workers in Qatar as well as a worker compensation fund – while disgraceful anti-LGBTQ+ laws remain in force, and freedom of speech and women’s rights are still unacceptably curtailed. “Ever since the Newcastle United takeover we’ve been warning that the door is still wide open for state-linked purchasers to buy their way into the Premier League without the need to meet the necessary business and human rights standards. “The drama at Old Trafford is another urgent reminder that the Premier League needs to overhaul its ownership rules to ensure they’re human rights-compliant.” Last month, the UK Government announced plans for an independent regulator in football that oversees the ownership and operation of clubs – something that, if implemented, would be a first across Europe’s top five leagues. READ NEXT: Weghorst delivers bold quadruple target Jadon Sancho is perfect for new position Meaning behind Rashford’s goal celebration Victor Osimhen addresses his Napoli future Manchester United news homepage

- Advertisement -

Related Articles


Latest Articles