They say that there is no blind man worse than the one who doesn’t want to see, and at this moment, the whole of European football is about to become blind for the rest of its life.
For years, we have seen the birth of numerous competitions in exotic countries that seek to create a high-level football league and serve to attract the best talents, or rather, talents willing to give up a successful career in Europe to bury themselves in money. I want to make it clear that this is not a criticism of the player, because, even if he shows a great lack of ambition, earning money is as valid an option as succeeding in the sporting arena.
China or the USA were the clearest examples in the early 2010s, at least until the Persian Gulf countries entered the equation. But there is a difference between the former and countries like Abu Dhabi, Qatar or Saudi Arabia: the latter use it as the basis of their sportwashing.
At this point, it may not be necessary to explain what sportwashing is, but it never hurts to inform: it is a tactic used by countries that do not comply with the main rules of democratic states and that take advantage of sporting events to wash the image that the majority public has of their country.
See Qatar signing stars like Xavi Hernández or Raul before hosting a World Cup in the middle of winter (it has not been played there precisely because of its football tradition) or Saudi Arabia signing players by offering them the biggest contracts in the history of the sport.
Earlier this year, the Saudi state took over the country’s top clubs in an attempt to increase investment and seek to attract as many top-level or big-name players as possible (as they had previously done with the world’s best golfers by creating their own league).
The country had already gambled on entering the world of football to clean up its image by buying Newcastle United, making it by far the club with the richest owners. Now they are looking to go one step further.
Although we put in the West lump all the countries in that area together by proximity and think they are the same, they are not at all. There is a strong rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, so the leaders of the Saudi country were not particularly pleased that the Qataris (185 times smaller in territory) achieved global exposure to host a World Cup.
This led them to seek to host the 2030 World Cup and, when they saw that it was complicated that year, to withdraw to be the favorites to host the 2034 World Cup.
This summer, they are taking all the spotlight because they are signing stars from Europe for prices impossible to imagine for most clubs on the continent, but the problem is not only here.
It is obvious to understand that there should be a legal limitation by FIFA and UEFA on the power that Arabia is getting when it comes to attracting players, but the problem does not start when players want to go to these countries, but when these countries enter the European and domestic leagues by buying clubs.
The problem is not just Ruben Neves going to Al-Hilal for 55 million euros from Wolves. The problem is that in the same Premier League, Manchester City is owned by a state like Abu Dhabi and Newcastle United is owned by the investment fund led by the prince of Saudi Arabia.
The big institutions show that they do not care about inequality or competitive injustice, but that the only thing they really care about is their revenues, and that they will turn a blind eye to countries that abuse human rights or murder journalists in embassies.
We are facing a problem that may decide the path of soccer in the future, but it is not something new that was born with the Arab leagues trying to sign players. It is a problem that has been established for decades and that we are avoiding seeing and commenting on, because more money means more spectacle.
State clubs and multi-properties must be eliminated, we must prevent them from using our football as sportwashing and we must have strict rules on club properties and on sports financial laws.
Football belongs to the people, do not take it away from us to give it to the rich.
There is a problem and we have to stop turning a blind eye. We all need to open our eyes.
Translated by Marcos Rodríguez.
Main image: @AlNassrFC.