Distortions in the World Game: A Story of Dubious Investments

October 17, 2021 Updated: October 18, 2021

Commentary

Football fans palpably celebrated when Newcastle United announced that Saudia Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) had purchased the club for a staggering £305 million ($419.7 million).

The Premier League approved the deal after receiving legally binding guarantees that the new Saudi Arabian owner would not control the club—one with a great family tradition.

The injection of money will allow the club to buy excellent players who could contribute successfully to the club’s future exploits. There is even an expectation that, in the coming years, the club could participate in the lucrative European Champions League.

Jurgen Klopp, the successful coach of Liverpool F.C., believes Newcastle United will be the next superpower after its takeover.

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Newcastle United fans hang a banner outside the stadium at St. James’ Park in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, for the English Premier League football match between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, in England, on Oct. 17, 2021. (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

However, the story of Newcastle United is not unique in the Premier League, indeed not even in Europe.

In England, West Bromwich Albion, a club in the Championship League, confirmed that Chinese investment group, the Yunyi Guokai Sports Development Limited Group, would acquire the club, subject to approval by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Premier League. West Bromwich is merely the next target after Chinese investors acquired shares in the Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club and Aston Villa.

Inter Milan, an Italian Club that plays in Italy’s Serie A football competition, became the first Chinese-owned club to win one of the major five European leagues in 2021, dethroning Juventus that won the scudetto nine years in a row. Milan’s President, Steven Zhang, son of Suning owner Zhang Jindong, who bought a controlling stake in the club in 2016, celebrated the achievement with the coach, players, and fans.

The investment of fabulously wealthy overseas owners, especially from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the People’s Republic of China, is a troubling development.

This is because both countries have a documented history of continuous human rights violations. The shocking treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, who have only recently been allowed to drive a car, and the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Turkey are notorious examples.

In China, the discriminatory treatment of the Uyghurs, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the brutal suppression of democracy and civil rights in Hong Kong, among others, are well-documented human rights violations.

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Police arrested a large number of people at the Goose Neck Bridge during the July 1 march in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020. The arrested people were tied with a rope belt and sit on the ground. (Bilong Song/The Epoch Times)

It is not an exaggeration to say that the financial support of these countries for topflight football clubs in Europe amounts to a successful attempt at buying respectability and international acclaim. However, it hides the suffering, exploitation, and discrimination of people and disfavoured groups in these countries.

Furthermore, the new overseas owners are effectively distorting the competition in the Premier League by investing a huge amount of money in these football clubs. Specifically, the Newcastle United investment enables the club to obtain an undeserved sports benefit. This benefit disadvantages the clubs that do not appeal to a wealthy overseas benefactor.

The investment squarely raises the question; to what extent football results should be “bought” rather than “earned” on the field?

A football competition, if conducted fairly, should ensure that participating teams earn the admiration of their fans on the field. In addition, football players should win their games because of their prowess, dedication, diligence, individual skill, and team spirit.

Of course, the sports profile and history of a club may well benefit from the club’s sound fiscal management and transfer policies, but, eventually, success is dependent on the unstinting efforts of the players.

Inevitably, depending on the circumstances, the fortunes of clubs will improve or wither: this is the nature of competition. But competition will be amenable to distortion if the successes of a club are the consequence of the financial largesse of overseas investors who may not be interested in the club’s sporting successes but in their self-interest in establishing an international reputation.

The extent of such distortion is visible in many ways. For example, these clubs may rise to the top of the league and qualify for the profitable Champions League. Such distortion is not unlike a violation of competition law involving an abuse of a dominant market position.

Proponents of the Newcastle United deal could argue that huge investments in clubs are the only way to ensure the long-term viability and success of the club at the highest level. They might say that this is the way of the present and future and that it is impossible to live in the past.

In contrast, detractors of the deal point out that, while clubs do not have to glorify the past, their past must continue to inform the present to ensure a viable and fair competition overall.

The fans of Newcastle United were ecstatic, rightly so, because the financial and sports fortunes of the club will markedly improve.

However, excitement may turn to rancour if, despite this financial injection, the players perform poorly on the field. It is not unheard of that a team of expensive galácticos loses against a team of determined, disciplined players who have never achieved the exalted status of football stars.

The Newcastle United story thus raises questions of the integrity of the football game. Only the future will tell whether this big-time investment in the club has adversely affected integrity in football.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published novels as well including, “A Twisted Choice,” and short story, “The Greedy Prospector” in “The Outback” anthology (Boolarong Press, 2021).