The football world’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been heartwarming to some, and a much needed dose of positivity in this trying time, but to other more cynical fans it seems a bit hypocritical.
By Jasper Harvey – 11th grade.
Clubs across Europe’s top five leagues were swift to voice their support of Ukraine. Teams in the English Premier League held anti-war banners together before kickoff and replaced the corner flags with Ukrainian flags. FIFA and UEFA have both been quick to ban Russian teams from international competitions, meaning that Spartak Moscow will be eliminated from the UEFA Europa League and Russia’s national team will not face Poland in their World Cup Play Off semi-final in April.
Political messages being advertised through football is nothing new. The Premier League has been a playing field for ideas as well as football throughout its history, notably with its No Room for Racism campaign which in recent years supported the Black Lives Matter Movement. These measures, however, do little other than punish the players who have no involvement in the situation and really mask the truth about the current climate of European football. In fact, European football has benefited from oligarchs and powerful people involved in human rights crises like the one occurring in Ukraine at the moment for the better part of the 20th Century. One example of a club benefiting from human crises is Chelsea FC, owned by Roman Abramovich. The Russian billionaire oligarch bought the London club in 2003. When a show of support for Ukraine took place before a Chelsea game, Labour MP Chris Bryant said: “Nothing could better depict the doublethink involved in following elite football nowadays: a match sending a message of support to the people of Ukraine involving a side bankrolled by a Russian oligarch with “links to the Russian state”.
Aside from his investment in oil, Abramovich amassed his wealth through various corrupt methods following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He mainly bought previously state owned assets from the Soviet Union and sold them for dramatically more expensive. He is also the main owner of a major Russian investment firm. Abramovich recently announced he will be selling the club following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, knowing that if he does not part with the club soon, it will be taken from him by the British government.This hasty sale of the club that has won several trophies in the past year is reflective of Abramovich’s involvement in the Ukrainian invasion. Abramovich has been a close confidant of Vladimir Putin and his predecessor Boris Yeltsin.
Abramovich is not the only club owner in the top 5 European leagues who has accumulated their wealth through unethical methods. Newcastle United was recently taken over by a Saudi Arabian collective, whose wealth is of an unclear origin. Other European football giants Paris Saint Germain and Manchester City are both owned by Middle Eastern billionaires whose money comes from corrupt and unethical sources.
It seems that the world of football is far from being as progressive as they pretend to be. Symbolic gestures undertaken in face of crises like the Ukrainian invasion have yet to become anything more than symbolic. The Premier League’s attitude towards politics in general is exemplified by their attitude towards human rights abuse. They have recently been considering adding human rights to the list of requirements for club owners, meaning that up until now the Premier League didn’t care at all about the crimes committed by their owners. Until the footballing world rejects corruption and criminals completely, any gestures that they make will remain hypocritical.