GOOD LUCK to everyone who still believes that sports and politics shouldn’t mix.
Because this sporty summer is dominated by political quarrels.
Russian players are banned from Wimbledon – with the loss of world ranking points by cowardly tennis bosses placating Putin.
The Open is overshadowed by the Gulf civil war sparked by the rebellious LIV Tour, funded by Saudi blood money, led by big white sidekick Greg Norman and surrounded by some of the game’s stars.
Anthony Joshua’s attempt to regain his world heavyweight title from Oleksandr Usyk will take place in Saudi Arabia, and promoter Eddie Hearn is once again rolling his eyes at such troublesome issues as human rights abuses, the war in Yemen, public executions and the dismemberment of dissident journalists.
And if you want to take refuge in football transfer gossip then the market is dominated by Newcastle project Geordie Arabia spending.
With Eddie Howe being applauded at a press conference for finishing 11th after using the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s first £90m tranche, ‘sportwashing’ appears to be succeeding in the North East.
At the very least, journalists covering LIV Golf’s launch event in St Albans posed tough questions for the game’s Saudi nitwits.
The likes of Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Phil Mickelson – who this year dubbed the Saudis “scary moms” – have been grilled over their disregard for human rights and asked if they would even play at a Putin-staged event if the money was right.
They responded that they were “not politicians,” and served up a politician’s perfect response, saying they would “not comment on speculation and hypothetical questions.”
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The argument over what to do with the baseball-capped traitors – heads on spikes or spikes on tees on the sport’s established tours – will darken this week’s US Open and next month’s 150th Open in St Andrews.
But does sportswashing – the idea of a brutal regime like Saudi Arabia investing in sport to gain kudos and cleanse its reputation – have the desired effect or can it backfire?
Especially given that debates about Newcastle, golf, boxing and other sports have brought the Saudi atrocities into greater focus and brought them to a much wider audience?
The answer depends on how the media questions such attempts, and it also depends on the words and actions of athletes.
A PR man once tried to sport wash me when I visited Saudi in 2019 to cover Joshua’s rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr. There the British press was served an interview with a Saudi prince – a savvy operator who was now his country’s sports minister.
This guy assured us that Saudis are nice to women these days, that they can even drive and play sports, and that we really shouldn’t worry about the brutality of his family’s regime.
And while few of us specialize in hard-hitting investigative journalism, we didn’t swallow it because we’re not complete morons.
While men like Saudi Arabia’s Joshua, Poulter, McDowell and Howe are asking awkward questions, Britain is blessed with some of its greatest current athletes – including Rory McIlroy, Andy Murray and Lewis Hamilton – who are decent men with the balls to stand up to people speak out – rights violations.
After Sunday’s Canadian Open win, McIlroy took aim at LIV Tour chief arsonist Norman, claiming he had extra motivation to surpass the Australian’s record of 20 PGA Tour victories.
Murray snubbed over £1million to play an exhibition game in Saudi Arabia last year and Hamilton made it clear he was opposed to hosting a grand prix in Jeddah and said he was looking forward to leaving the venue.
Athletes and journalists can do more and say more to turn the publicity surrounding Saudi involvement in sport back to the barbarity of that regime.
But whoever says sport and politics shouldn’t mix is simply saying exactly what the Saudis and Vladimir Putin want them to do.
2 X 9 = GOALS
AS Manchester City and Liverpool dominated English football without a regular, through-and-through No9. It felt like the traditional centre-forward was going out of style.
Is a more fluid attacking formation without an obvious center of gravity more effective in the modern game?
City manager Pep Guardiola has often argued that.
So the signings of Erling Haaland and Darwin Nunez are intriguing.
If Haaland City improve and Nunez move Liverpool forward, then the gap between second and third place in the Premier League could be even bigger than last season’s 18 points.
I saw a friend who supports Manchester City the other night and he asked me a question.
“If Liverpool have the best player in the world, the best manager in the world, the best defender in the world, the best goalkeeper in the world, six of the PFA teams of the year and by far the best fans in the world, how come they failed in the Champions League and Premier League and failed on goal in three cup finals?
“Put that in your notepad,” he told me.
And I did. And there you have it.
THE FA are rightly determined that Gareth Southgate’s replacement, if necessary, will be English.
Still, there hasn’t been a better developer of English talent in recent years than newly unemployed Mauricio Pochettino.
He would be an interesting candidate for the takeover.
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/5554196/dave-kidd-sport-politics-putin-saudis/ Dave Kidd: Anyone who says sport and politics don’t mix is saying exactly what Putin and the Saudis want them to do