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Shane Hannon
Shane Hannon

14:08 21 Aug 2020


Miguel Delaney says the issue of sportswashing is overshadowing this weekend's Champions League final, as financial superpowers PSG get set to play in their very first decider.

Thomas Tuchel's side will take on Bayern Munich on Sunday evening in Lisbon, with plenty of focus in the build-up on how PSG spent more money on Neymar and Kylian Mbappé than Bayern did on their entire 23-man squad for the semi-final.

Delaney, Chief Football Writer at The Independent, told OTB AM that sportswashing - owning a team as a means for a country to improve its global reputation - cannot be ignored heading into club football's showpiece night.

"It's top-down exploitation of the sport, rather than bottom-up exploitation. That's what it comes down to. You point to a few clubs like say Juventus with Fiat or Bayer Leverkusen. In pretty much all those cases though, the club grew out of the workers wanting to play, and representing a group of people.

"Even in [Silvio] Berlusconi's case, through the adulation he got with football, that almost fired his imagination for politics.

"One of the problems with PSG, and why this is also a landmark is this is an evolution of the way football was going. The games' greedy embrace of hyper-capitalism led it to grow to a size where certain clubs were attractive to wider interest than just making money or the promotion of certain companies.

"With Paris Saint-Germain the success of the football club is only important insofar as the promotion for, and the enhancement of, Qatar's image, and something a lot deeper and a lot more sophisticated.

"Financial disparity and greed in football are obviously very bad things, but that pales next to real-world concerns like migrant worker deaths, like human rights abuses.

"The most simplistic yet fair criticism of Qatar in that sense is that this is all a sportswashing project designed to... Having projects like this, and something that allows integration into the west, essentially allows them to go about business or even do better business despite a myriad of problems that should really warrant great scrutiny.

"Now that they're in the final, they should warrant greater scrutiny than ever. It is a landmark, football was going this way - but now that it's here, it is worth reflecting on the situation we're in and how bad it's got. That what is essentially a political project is in the Champions League final."

Delaney also pointed to Manchester City and how nothing has improved in terms of human rights in the UAE over the years since the club's takeover.

"If you look at the Manchester City case... The argument is that by integrating them it might improve conditions, improve attitudes to human rights.

"With Manchester City and Abu Dhabi, the absolute opposite has happened. If you talk to any academic who's working in the area, and I've spoken to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on this, Abu Dhabi is in a much, much worse place with regards human rights in 2020 than it was in 2008.

"Despite that, we've seen massive growth with the City project, we've seen Abu Dhabi use the club to basically launch a construction empire in Manchester.

"At the same time when Khaldoon [Al Mubarak], who is the chairman of Manchester City, and also the de facto prime minister of Abu Dhabi, anytime he's over in England on club business he also uses these trips to meet with government officials, in meetings you only really read about in the Abu Dhabi press if you go looking.

"The best way to put it is - if you just allow them into the sport without any attempt at reform, it means they can just go about business anyway. They can get all these massive benefits without having to change.

"I think that's what's precisely happened, and it's why we should be pushing back against this and now asking the biggest questions.

"The biggest one with Qatar this weekend, as they have the game that has been seen as the culmination of the grand project, is how many migrant workers have died since 2012? It's a question the country still won't answer."

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