Pitch Battle – Saudi Sportswashing and Newcastle United

Pitch Battle – Saudi Sportswashing and Newcastle United

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On the weekend that this podcast is released, Saudi Arabia will be playing two international football matches at Newcastle United’s St James Park, against Costa Rica and South Korea – but the results won’t really matter, and not just because the games are friendlies.

Critics say that whatever the final scores, the despotic regime of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) will already have won, simply by virtue of being allowed to host such prestigious games at a venerated English football stadium.

The Saudi Public Investment Fund bought Newcastle in 2021, which many observers regarded as a classic case of “sportswashing”; a regime notorious for human rights abuses seeking to create a more positive image for itself. The staging of these friendlies is being seen as another step towards the ‘normalisation’ of a state renowned for its human rights abuses.

Ahead of the Saudi friendlies, Adrian Goldberg travelled to St James Park to meet John Hird, a lifelong Newcastle United fan and founder of NUFC Against Sportswashing, and Lina Al Hathloul, from Saudi human rights organisation ALQST.

Produced in Birmingham by Adrian Goldberg and Harvey White.

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