Man City football ruling creates a financial free-for-all for regimes playing the global PR game

Manchester City’s two-year ban from European competition, imposed by Uefa, has been overturned by the grand-sounding Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. The Court found that the alleged “serious breaches” of Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules were “either not established or time-barred.”

So it doesn’t seem to be saying the club didn’t do it but that it can’t be proven and much of it was too late. The alleged breaches emerged in a spate of hacked emails from Germany.

A messy business therefore and one which opens football, the world’s most popular sport, to yet more influence by unpopular regimes – Man City is owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a billionaire member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family – and the money that accompanies them. Saudi Arabian interests are trying to buy the UK’s Newcastle United, the next World Cup is to be held in that hotbed of football Qatar.

In effect football has become the global political PR game. It’s not new for sports and sports events to be seen as PR levers by contentious regimes – Hitler arguably got there first in 1936 – but the worldwide live broadcasting of the game has made it in a win/win bet for certain regimes.

Buying and investing in a football club may cost billions but you get some of the money back from TV rights, sponsorship and the like plus lots of free tickets to all sorts of things – a lot more fun than hiring a PR agency.

But where does this leave the supposedly beautiful game? Not looking very pretty some might say.

Are Newcastle supporters really comfortable with effective ownership by a regime that executes people by the hundreds? It’s just decided to stop beheading minors which some might see as a move in the right direction.

Financial Fair Play was a belated effort to bring some order into proceedings, not least by giving a bigger chance to clubs not owned by Middle Eastern potentates. Can even football survive a financial free-for-all?

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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