Newcastle, Saudi Arabia, and the Shifting of the Goalposts in English Football: A Triangulated Case Study Analysis of Sportswashing in the “Beautiful” Game

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The takeover of Newcastle United Football Club by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund in October, 2021, marked the latest and most spectacular, high-profile injection of oil money from the Gulf States into European football. Confronted by the need to diversify their oil-dependent economies, the Gulf States have embarked on an unprecedented investment drive that is reshaping the boundaries of football. For many, this process has come to be known as “sportswashing”, that is, the practice of a state using sport to direct attention away form human rights abuses and in order to improve their public image (Amnesty, 2018). This triangulated case study will try to surmise the impact of the so-called “sportswashing” phenomenon by building up a novel, conceptual framework of this understudied topic, such that, we may better understand the dynamics and mechanisms that underpin it. The paper concludes with the assertion that sportswashing has become a highly effective soft power tool, that in conjunction with other strategies, will help states project their soft power capabilities on the world stage, while also being a viable hard power alternative to achieve certain aims, as the palpability of harder methods such as military intervention has diminished.
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