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Exploring Sportswashing in Football From A Geordie Perspective

by Phoenix Atkinson

In the fast-paced world of football, noteworthy transfers often capture headlines. 

The 2023 transfer window has been no exception, as prominent players like Christino Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Allan Saint-Maximin made surprising moves to Saudi Pro League clubs. This trend of star footballers nearing the twilight of their careers seeking high-paying deals is unmistakable. 

But what's driving these moves, and is there a deeper narrative at play?

Christino Ronaldo's record-breaking £173 million-a-year deal with Al-Nassr and Karim Benzema's £171 million switch to Al Ittihad raise eyebrows. Even Allan Saint-Maximin's £30 million bid from Al Ahli and Neymar's departure from Paris St-Germain to Al-Hilal hint at a developing pattern. The question is whether these high-profile moves hold a common theme.

Undoubtedly, money is the driving force behind these transfers. The twilight years of a footballer's career often coincide with financial planning for retirement. 

As standard retirement age approaches, players seek opportunities to secure their families' futures. This trend isn't unprecedented; historical examples like Gary Linekar and Lionel Messi show a propensity for lucrative transfers later in their careers.

Football's collective belief that player performance wanes after the early 30s adds context. Players often contemplate coaching badges and media training as a pathway to a second career. 

The sentiment varies, with some, like Stuart Pearce and Megan Rapinoe, defying norms and playing well beyond their early 30s. However, the common thread of pursuing financial security remains.

While financial incentives dominate, the Saudi Pro League's appeal isn't without controversy. The term "sportswashing" comes into play, with the Saudi Pro League viewed as a tool to distract from larger issues. 

Saudi Arabia's questionable human rights record adds fuel to the debate. The term refers to the manipulation of sports for image enhancement while downplaying negative aspects.

As a devoted Newcastle United fan, I acknowledge the complexities surrounding this topic. The focus here remains on the Saudi Pro League, leaving aside concerns about our club's ownership. 

Football, fundamentally a business, often adheres to capitalism's dictates. My humorous take on the Newcastle/Man City matchup as the "Oil Clasico" captures this essence.

The heart of the matter lies in a conflicted culture that enables sportswashing. Players might be criticized for sidelining morality, yet the larger ecosystem shares blame. This culture has allowed instances like the World Cup in Qatar, marred by human rights issues, to thrive.

Halting player transfers to the Saudi Pro League is a daunting task due to the mechanics of transfers and release clauses. However, public pressure can exert influence. 

The league's potential exclusion from the UEFA Champions League due to Financial Fair Play regulations signals a potential snag in its growth trajectory. Though an initial surge in popularity is likely, the sustainability of this growth remains uncertain.

In conclusion, football's allure of financial security has driven prominent players to the Saudi Pro League, even as sportswashing concerns persist. The power of fans' voices and public opinion cannot be underestimated. 

While the Saudi Pro League might be an inevitable reality, its long-term impact hinges on overcoming controversies and ensuring sustainable growth. 

As a Geordie, my hope is for a football landscape that maintains integrity and embraces positive change.

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