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What do big tech and big football clubs have in common?

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

You never forget your first home game. The busy walk there, as the streets around you slowly form a sea of red and white – scarfs, hats, shirts. The mix of excitement and nerves at the turnstiles. That feeling of being surrounded by a mixed crowd who all want the same thing – goals, goals, and more goals! Being at one with a crowd, sharing the same euphoria – or despair! Football is about so much more than winning. Perhaps others will say it has to be when you support the erratic red and white team I do – but it really is. It’s about the joy of the game, the hope, the anticipation, the excitement.

The premier league feels very different these last few years though – and draws a lot of parallels with the ethical dilemmas of using big tech. It’s becoming harder to enjoy either without fearing the human rights implications. Which is why we feel the premier league has many parallels with big tech.

Big tech like Facebook and YouTube are hard to avoid, but even just watching a video on Facebook now means you have to reconcile yourself to the fact something enjoyable has human rights abuse connected to it. That’s now exactly what Newcastle football fans also have to contend with. With the Magpies agreeing a reportedly £300 million deal to a consortium that saw Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund take an 80% stake, supporting the club now means backing a team connected to a country with extremely questionable human rights - and opinion is divided as to whether this takeover should have ever been allowed.

The ethical concerns of using big tech like Facebook

On a recent Sky Monday Night Football, the pundits debated fans’ concerns. Gary Neville said, “There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia has a pretty appalling record on human rights”, adding “There are things they do that aren’t accepted in what would be a normal world and that’s something that needs to change.” He felt having Saudi Arabia involved in the premier league could lead to positives though, adding, “I do believe sport should be a force for good – I believe sport should be a force for political change”, and “I think governments have to challenge each other, the UK government has to work with Saudi Arabia to ensure that they improve their record – sport, I believe, should try to assist with societal change”.

Neville went on to say, “I believe we are better off sat around the table with these nations and we’re better off working with them to make change in sport” and that “there has been more of a light shone on Saudi Arabia’s human rights issues in the last month then there has been in the last 10-15 years, from what I can remember.”

Pundit David Jones challenged the idea; “The accusation is they are using sport to turn our eyes away from the human rights abuses – and potentially worse – that you’re talking about.” Jamie Carragher also questioned if some of the recent actions in Saudi Arabia were “lines that you can’t cross”, suggesting they should never have been welcomed to the premier league.

The premier league feels very different these last few years – and draws a lot of parallels with the ethical dilemmas of using big tech.

Another parallel football clubs like Newcastle and Manchester City share with big tech giants like Facebook is that billionaires are now pulling the strings. This deal will make Newcastle one of the richest clubs – in the whole world. When Deloitte published this year’s list of the “highest revenue generating clubs in world football”, unsurprisingly, the four English clubs featuring highest in that list have claimed nine out of the last 10 championship titles. Did they earn the right to be there? Or did they buy the title? Just as you might wonder if big tech is there to support the communities who need it most, is football even for the fans anymore?

These big entertainment and community systems and clubs are important parts of our lives, but many are now engaging in practices that, as Carragher said, are lines that shouldn't be crossed. Perhaps this is part of a wider trend – and what happens when it all gets too big? For now, I will keep wearing my red and white scarf and cling to the hope my club can somehow win the league without a billionaire backing – and without connections to human rights abuse.


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