Earlier this week, the influential Kick It Out charity contacted Newcastle United seeking urgent talks about the fact that some of its supporters had worn Arab fancy dress costumes at last Sunday’s match against Spurs.
It might seem surprising that Kick It Out, which campaigns for equity and inclusion in football, has had nothing to say about the takeover of the club by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, a group chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
He, of course, is the unelected ruler of an authoritarian regime that murders dissident journalists, jails women’s rights activists and tortures political opponents.
Concerns were raised over Newcastle fans wearing Arab fancy dress costumes
It came after the controversial takeover of Newcastle by the Saudi Public Investment Fund chaired by Mohammed bin Salman (pictured)
Not exactly equitable behaviour or inclusive, but none of Kick It Out’s business, apparently.
Yet the moment a handful of Toon fans decided to have a bit of fun by putting on traditional Arab robes and headdresses, the pressure group — and a host of other commentators — sprang into action. The charity has offered to organise ‘educational workshops’ for these errant supporters, lecturing them on why such cultural stereotypes are inappropriate and offensive.
This is typical of the double-standards in today’s game, where it is one rule for the punters and another for the clubs’ executives and billionaire owners.
Earlier this year, the Free Speech Union — the organisation I run — came to the aid of a fan of a well-known team who had been banned from attending any more games because he booed players taking the knee.
This was in spite of the fact that this club, like nearly every other team in the Premier League, has promoted few people of colour to senior management positions and has never had a black manager. We managed to get the ban lifted and advised him to keep his feelings to himself in future, but it is not easy when the rank hypocrisy is so plain to see from the stands.
There has also been little criticism among senior figures in the game over the decision to host next year’s World Cup in Qatar
Football stadiums across the country never miss an opportunity to advertise their support for LGBT rights, but few senior figures in the game have criticised the decision to stage the next World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuals can be imprisoned for up to three years.
No doubt Newcastle players will all be expressing their solidarity with LGBT people on December 8, which the charity Stonewall has designated ‘Rainbow Laces Day’, conveniently overlooking the fact that homosexuality is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.
When it comes to these gestures, I agree with Les Ferdinand, director of football at QPR, the team I support. ‘It is not now dissimilar to a fancy hashtag or a nice pin badge,’ he said last year. ‘Taking the knee will not bring about change in the game — actions will.’
Unfortunately, the only ‘action’ Newcastle has been urged to take is to punish fans who dress up as Arabs. In response to pressure from the woke lobby, the club issued a statement saying that dressing in the Middle Eastern costumes is ‘culturally inappropriate and risks causing offence to others’, although it did at least row back on that yesterday, saying fans were welcome to wear whatever they liked.
Kick it Out had nothing to say about Newcastle’s takeover by the Saudi Public Investment Fund
It is a pity Newcastle’s former owner, Mike Ashley, didn’t worry about causing offence to Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered by agents of the Saudi regime, before selling his shares in the club to Mohammed bin Salman.
I’m afraid football has caught the same bug that has infected so many other areas of our society, the topsy-turvy value system in which virtue signalling is more important than being virtuous, where being seen to do the right thing matters more than actually doing the right thing.
When the FA endorsed the Black Lives Matter movement last year it was about as sincere as Neymar going down in the area and rolling around. A bit of theatre designed to fool credulous onlookers.
There are a few beacons of hope. In 2015, QPR appointed Chris Ramsey as head coach, one of only six black managers in football’s 92 league clubs at the time, none of them in the Premier League.
And every QPR fan knows that black lives matter because we’ve named our stadium after Kiyan Prince, a member of our youth team who was fatally stabbed in 2006 aged 15. It is actions like this that bring about positive change, not publicly shaming Newcastle fans because they wear fancy dress.
Or reporting Crystal Palace fans to the police for unfurling a banner protesting against Newcastle’s Saudi ownership, which happened at Selhurst Park.