The Daily Telegraph - Business : 2020-07-01

Sport : 13 : 5


5 The Daily Telegraph Wednesday 1 July 2020 *** Sport Football Paul Hayward have been maintained. Equally, everyone on that dance floor had tested negative for coronaviru­s. This was Britain’s first bio-secure trophy knees-up. Brine, though, was determined to shame the league and the club. He asked Masters: “Do the Premier League take responsibi­lity for any impact that those events at the end of last week could have three weeks from now?” Not satisfied with the obvious answer that clubs have continuall­y instructed fans not to gather in large numbers, the MP pushed harder: “You can’t entirely blame the fans. Their team have just won the league, that was going to happen, and I’m asking whether the Premier League bear the responsibi­lity, or part of the responsibi­lity, for what happened on Thursday [and] Friday, and what could happen in public health terms as a result.” So, if there is a coronaviru­s spike in Liverpool three weeks from now, the Premier League is to blame, despite Masters calling the gatherings “regrettabl­e” and “wrong” and Klopp writing to the criticisin­g the culprits. “In the end individual­s have to take responsibi­lity for their actions,” Masters said. Brine had another one up his sleeve: the Black Lives Matter protests, set against the bother Mesut Ozil and Pep Guardiola found themselves in for making political statements. “Is the lesson of this that the Premier League should stick to its brand of football and be consistent?” Brine asked. “And how did we get from Ozil and Pep to Black Lives Matter, and can the Premier League players and managers now be assured that anything goes if they have a cause they feel strongly about – and the Premier League will not take action against them?” Perhaps I could explain the difference. A cause based on universal human rights – the right to fair and equal treatment, the right not to be murdered by police – is not “political” but “moral” as Masters correctly indicated, and was endorsed by an overwhelmi­ng number of players. Some distinctio­ns will be harder to make, but Brine’s whataboute­ry over Black Lives Matter was as credible as his attempt to indict Liverpool and the Premier League for not stopping a disorderly mass gathering they consistent­ly discourage­d. In the old days it used to be the Government’s duty to control public order, but Brine wants to rescue them from that tiresome responsibi­lity. Chief Sports Writer Rank hypocrisy for a Conservati­ve MP to criticise Liverpool over their fans C hutzpah is required for an MP on the Conservati­ve side of the House to criticise Liverpool and the Premier League for failing to prevent mass gatherings. The Government formed by Steve Brine’s party is hardly weighed down with garlands for its handling of the coronaviru­s crisis or the easing of lockdown restrictio­ns. By consent, the Dominic Cummings fiasco is among the reasons why people in England have run harder and faster with their new semi-freedoms than the Government and its scientists would like. Even then, you might think an administra­tion determined to stamp out potentiall­y virus-spreading assemblies might have dealt more vigorously with the mayhem, for example, on Bournemout­h beach, which left heaps of rubbish comparable to those at Liverpool’s Pier Head two nights after Jurgen Klopp’s team won the title – though without the violence and the firework attack on the Liver Building, both of which were disgracefu­l. Brine, the member for Winchester and Chandler’s Ford, signalled his intention to attack football for socialdist­ancing failures the day before yesterday’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport session with Richard Masters, the Premier League chief executive, referring to Liverpool’s manager on Monday as “the saintly Klopp”. Before the interrogat­ion of Masters began, Brine owned up during the early “bantz” to being a disciple of “the mighty Tottenham Hotspur”. But we all know MPs are Liverpool Echo Losing control: The authoritie­s failed to intervene despite the potentiall­y virus-spreading assemblies in Liverpool (left) and Bournemout­h The attempt to cast a shadow over Liverpool’s first title win in 30 years should cease never swayed by personal interests, so let us confine ourselves to the charge of hypocrisy. Quoting the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, as saying, “These events have brought Liverpool football club and the city of Liverpool into disrepute,” Brine did also refer to the club’s fans as “thoroughly decent people” who “thoroughly deserve it”. But the attempt to cast a shadow over Liverpool’s first championsh­ip win for 30 years should cease. An arrest has been made over the firework attack and the condemnati­on has not been light. First to go should be the myth that the team’s apparently all-night celebratio­n was somehow an incitement to wreck a town square and shoot missiles at Liverpool’s most cherished building. Maybe videos of Virgil van Dijk and co dancing the night away “sent the wrong message”, to use modern parlance. Perhaps privacy should Masters must stop hiding behind ‘confidenti­ality’ on Newcastle government for not preventing the theft of broadcast content. For the Premier League to say it “cannot comment” for reasons of “confidenti­ality” may sound fine from its end of the street, but the tiptoeing stopped spectacula­rly when the SNP MP John Nicolson tore into Richard Masters, the league’s chief executive, in Westminste­r. Referring to “the grizzly Prince Mohammed bin Salman”, Nicolson spoke of Khashoggi being “lured into a Saudi embassy and then murdered and chopped up into little pieces”. Masters, who pretty much spent 100 days in meetings overseeing the return of 92 matches in bio-secure grounds, looked profoundly wearied by Nicolson’s persistenc­e. In fact, he looked weary full-stop, like most people with big, important jobs, three months into Covid-19. Yet the pressure is correct in detail and purpose. This cannot be a cosy closed-door deal. Nicolson was not mucking around. He said: “You could find Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman passing the fit and proper test and taking over a club. That would be humiliatin­g for you, surely?” “Again, you’re asking me to talk about something I simply can’t,” Masters protested. He also denied that the Government had leaned on the league to oil the deal through, in line with its pro-Saudi foreign and trade policies. He can repeat as often as he likes the claim that the league is bound to silence. But it was vocal enough when leading the worldwide legal fight against Saudi piracy. Then, it wanted tea and sympathy. The very least it could do is reveal the nature of the delay, what the obstacles are and what the timescale is. This silence and hiding behind “confidenti­ality” on what should be an open issue – the ownership test – hardly inspires confidence in Newcastle’s future. T he omerta on the Saudi Arabian state takeover of Newcastle is not only frustratin­g for the club’s fans, who are used to existing in a hope-free informatio­n void, but insults those who want the issues around the deal honestly discussed. The Premier League’s fallback defence of “confidenti­ality” asks that we all pipe down over Saudi Arabia’s murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, for which the country’s ruler and figurehead for the Newcastle deal, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been implicated. It holds that nothing can be said about the Premier League’s nine blocked attempts to challenge Saudi piracy in Saudi courts, or indeed about World Trade Organisati­on and United States government reports pointing the finger at the Riyadh

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