Amnesty hits out at Man City over ‘sportswash­ing’

Hu­man rights group at­tacks club’s spon­sor­ship deal with Emirates firm

The Observer - - News - Jamie Doward

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.

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