Amnesty International warns of ‘sports-washing’ amid potential Qatari takeover of Manchester United

Amnesty International has warned that the potential takeover of Manchester United could see the club become part of a “wider programme of Qatari sports-washing”.

Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, chair of the Qatari Islamic Bank (QIB), made public an intention to buy the club on Friday night. The Athletic claims the initial bid is worth in the region of £4.5bn.

It is widely assumed within the sport that Sheikh Jassim is the face of the bid due to his independence from the Qatari regime. This is because UEFA rules prevent individuals or entities owning more than one club in the same competition, and Paris Saint-Germain are already owned by Emir Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani through Qatar Sports Investments (QSI).

There are clear links between Sheikh Jassim and the Emir. The QIB’s largest shareholder is the Qatari Investment Authority (QIA), the sovereign wealth fund that also owns QSI. Sheikh Jassim’s father is not only the country’s former Prime Minister but was also chair of the QIA.

Concerns have been raised that, should the takeover go through, the club would become part of the regime’s “sports-washing” programme, in which sport is used to launder the reputation of regimes accused of wrongdoing and human rights abuses.

The criticism was widely levelled at Qatar last year when the nation hosted the 2022 men’s World Cup. Qatar is accused of overseeing human rights abuses, with the treatment of migrant workers in the run-up to the tournament attracting widespread condemnation. Homosexuality is illegal in the country and the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community are “unacceptably curtailed”.

Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK’s economic affairs director, said: “Fan groups are right to be concerned that a Qatari buy-out of Manchester United is likely to be part of a wider programme of Qatari sportswashing where the glamour of football is used to refashion the country’s image regardless of serious and systematic human rights abuses.

“The Qatar World Cup has come and gone, yet we’re still waiting for reforms to improve the lives of exploited migrant workers in Qatar as well as a worker compensation fund – while disgraceful anti-LGBTQ+ laws remain in force, and freedom of speech and women’s rights are still unacceptably curtailed.

“Ever since the Newcastle United takeover we’ve been warning that the door is still wide open for state-linked purchasers to buy their way into the Premier League without the need to meet the necessary business and human rights standards.

“The drama at Old Trafford is another urgent reminder that the Premier League needs to overhaul its ownership rules to ensure they’re human rights-compliant.”