Chelsea: Newcastle’s sale makes Abramovich’s exile even more ludicrous

Newcastle United are only an owners’ and directors’ test away from having a Saudi Arabian government-backed investor group buy the club. Meanwhile, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich still can’t get into England. The same British government that has declared Roman Abramovich persona non grata have no objection – or, at the very least, have no authority to stop – one of the world’s top human rights violators from buying one of England’s most treasured football clubs. While National Health Service employees rest in Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge-adjacent hotels, Amnesty International and Jamal Khashoggi’s almost-widow learn the limits of performative sanctimony when it comes to cracking down on football owners.  Sorry, Roman Abramovich: you’re old money now. You’re not bringing any new money to the league or the economy (other than those funds you’re using to bolster the NHS). PCP Capital Partners, on the other hand, is pure profit.  Maybe “pure” is the wrong word to use.  Saudi Arabia is a very late entrant to the football ownership game. Given what’s going on in the world economy, especially the oil market, you could say they’re a day late and a few dollars per barrel short.  The idea that their purchase is part of a plan to diversify the economy shows that either the Public Investment Fund or the purveyors of that idea are ignorant of the economics of owning sports teams. As we’ve said repeatedly, you don’t buy a sports team to turn a profit.  Obviously, buying Newcastle is an exercise in branding, perhaps the most extreme form of sportwashing this or any other sport has seen. It’s not about PIF diversifying their portfolio or the Saudi state diversifying their economy – it’s about sports’ wonderful ability to make people forget an awful lot of awful things the owners have done.  It’s worked at Manchester City. It’s worked at Paris Saint-Germain. It’s not accurate to say it worked at Chelsea, as rivals’ and “purists’” issue with Abramovich was him “buying titles,” rather than anything related to his business practices or political activities. Rivals’ fans still talk about “Roman’s rubles,” as if they were anything more than a rounding error of the petro-pounds of the last decade.  Roman Abramovich has at least ramped up his genuine philanthropy in recent years and – to any public knowledge – has left nefarious activity well in his past.  And he hasn’t chopped anyone up in an embassy.  But hey, the slippery slope is well-greased, and right now it’s aimed at Newcastle.  Perhaps the English government will look at the Premier League’s newest ownership group and at Roman Abramovich’s recent community largesse and allow him to attend a game at Stamford Bridge. We all know the government would never – never! – want to be accused of hypocrisy at the intersection of sports, economic diplomacy and human rights.  Next: Chelsea will struggle to juggle with Philippe Coutinho in the squad Newcastle’s change of ownership may usher in a new era of honesty, if not transparency. The government and the governing bodies may decide that if they just own it, they can sportwash themselves, too.

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