Amnesty hits out at Man City over ‘sportswashing’
Human rights group attacks club’s sponsorship deal with Emirates firm
Amnesty International has accused Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owners of brazenly trying to “sportswash” their country’s “deeply tarnished image” by pouring money into the Premier League club.
The human rights group’s intervention is likely to increase the pressure on football’s governing bodies to investigate a series of incendiary allegations against the club, including a deal for sports rights involving a shell company controlled by a major donor to the Tory party via a series of companies and trusts operating in tax havens.
The original allegations were made by Der Spiegel based on information obtained from the whistleblowing platform Football Leaks. According to the German magazine, City have spent much of the past decade trying to get around European football’s financial fair play rules with inflated sponsorship deals, an elaborate image rights scheme and hidden contracts. The rules are supposed to help level the playing field and stop rich clubs buying success.
But the claims in Der Spiegel have raised questions about City’s conduct, the transparency of its financial relationships, and its choice of business partners. One of its sponsorship deals was struck with Arabtec, the largest construction company in the United Arab Emirates, and a firm that has been repeatedly criticised by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for its poor treatment of migrant workers.
“The UAE’s enormous investment in Manchester City is one of football’s most brazen attempts to ‘sportswash’ a country’s deeply tarnished image through the glamour of the game,” said Amnesty International’s Gulf researcher Devin Kenney.
Der Spiegel claims City bosses ignored warnings from their own public relations experts about reputational damage and increased scrutiny to sign a three-year, regional sponsorship agreement worth £7m a year with Arabtec in 2014. The allegedly inflated sports rights deal involves a marketing company called Fordham Sports Management which, according to filings with Companies House, is majority owned by David Rowland, a property developer who has given millions to the Tory party. It is unclear how the deal was structured.
Fordham is a subsidiary of a company called Rowcap Nominees, whose ultimate parent company is Albany Settlements Ltd, based in the British Virgin Islands. Rowcap Nominees is ultimately controlled by the Rowland Purpose Trust 2001 which, according to data obtained by the Panama Papers, is based in Guernsey.
Attempts to elicit comment from Rowland and his son, Jonathan, made by other media earlier in the week were unsuccessful. City have declined to comment on Der Spiegel’s allegations beyond calling them a smear.
Raheem Sterling in action for Manchester City last week.