Newcastle United will wear a new away kit almost identical to the strip worn by the Saudi Arabian national team in the 2022/23 season.
The Magpies are altering their change colours to white with dashes of green around the neckline and sleeves, representing the colours of the Saudi flag, having been taken over by Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund after protracted negotiations with previous owner Mike Ashley in November last year.
The takeover has been criticised since its completion for being an example of alleged ‘sportswashing’, the effect whereby an anti-democratic state launders its image and reputation on the international stage using the success of a sporting brand it owns. Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain face regular criticism on the matter, with those clubs being owned by investment vehicles closely linked to the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar respectively.
When the deal was concluded, the Premier League said it had ‘received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.’ The controversial new kit design appears to prove that statement wrong, if anybody were still in doubt, and will likely strengthen the relationship between the North East club and the Saudi state.
The new kit means it is likely that some Newcastle players will wear rainbow boot laces to support the LGBTQ+ community during the Premier League’s traditional annual campaign, while wearing a strip honouring a state in which same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by imprisonment and torture.
In January, Newcastle travelled to the Saudi seaside resort Jeddah for a warm weather training camp, before taking on local side Al-Ittihad in an exhibition fixture which garnered plenty of press coverage.
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, with no democratic elections and which oppresses its own people in various forms. Earlier this year it executed 81 of its citizens on a single day, and currently has a 17-year-old child on death row for a crime he was alleged to have committed at 14. If the country continues at its current pace, it will execute over 500 of its own people in 2022 alone.
The state uses ‘an array of discriminatory practices and policies that disempower women and leave them vulnerable to abuse,’ according to the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, while same-sex sexual activity is illegal and LGBTQ+ people can be punished with public whippings, life imprisonment and deportation.
According to human rights organisation Amnesty International in 2021, ‘Among those harassed, arbitrarily detained, prosecuted and/or jailed [in Saudi Arabia] were government critics, women’s rights activists, human rights defenders, relatives of activists, and journalists. Virtually all known Saudi Arabian human rights defenders inside the country were detained or imprisoned.
‘Courts resorted extensively to the death penalty and people were executed for a wide range of crimes,’ its summary of Saudi Arabia continues. ‘Migrant workers were even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because of the pandemic, and thousands were arbitrarily detained in dire conditions, leading to an unknown number of deaths.’
A Saudi-led coalition, which backs the government in Yemen, has been bombing the country routinely since 2014. The UN says the war has caused the greatest humanitarian crisis on Earth, with 24.1 million people in Yemen requiring aid. 337,000 deaths are estimated to have been caused by the conflict, and over 10,000 children have been killed or wounded by fighting.
Newcastle spent over £100m on incoming transfer in January, with the likes of Bruno Guimaraes, Kieran Tripper and Chris Wood arriving to leave them to Premier League safety.
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