#NoToMbS: Saudi 'bid' prompts calls for boycott by Man United fans

#NoToMbS: Saudi 'bid' prompts calls for boycott by Man United fans
Mohammed bin Salman reportedly offered to takeover Manchester United but if successful, the Saudi crown prince will harvest controversy over human rights along with the UAE royal who owns City
5 min read
18 February, 2019
Angry United fans have joined together to protest MbS's bid for ownership [AFP]
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is reportedly looking to buy English Premier League club Manchester United in a £3.8 billion takeover bid, but if he takes over the club, United could be exposed to controversy and boycott by its fans and rivals.

With fans coming out in droves threatening to boycott United if the crown prince's deal goes through, the club may face falling numbers of fans and even sponsorship withdrawals if the deal goes through.

The crown prince had previously launched a bid for the club in October, reported The Sun on Sunday. The deal reportedly stalled following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that month.

MbS reportedly offered £3.8 billion ($4.9 billion) to the Glazer family, the club's current owners, in order to tempt them to sell. The American family would make a $2.2 billion profit if the deal goes ahead.

Sources close to the family say the Glazers are not willing to sell to MbS, however. Avram Glazer was one of several high-profile business leaders to boycott the crown prince’s "Davos in the Desert" economic forum following the Khashoggi killing.

Displeased United fans have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #NoToMbS to reject a possible deal made with "blood money".

"If this murderer and torturer takes over the club, I am walking away," Egyptian writer and United superfan Mona Eltahawy tweeted.

"I have supported Man United since they lost the 1976 FA Cup to Southampton," one fan tweeted. "I have stuck with them through thick and thin, but if this deal goes through, I cannot in good conscience give them my support!"

"If United sells team to the Saudi prince, I refuse to be a part of fan base," wrote another fan. "I would encourage players to not come, because they will be supporting a regime that kills people, to get their way!"

Some fans, however, rejected calls to boycott, saying that MbS would be an "ambitious" leader who could strengthen the club with infusions of oil money. Fans criticised the current ownership of the club, accusing the Glazers of "robbing" fans and "draining" money from United.

"I think it's should always be about football, we're football fans first, ignore the politics," an "avid Man United supporter" tweeted.

Ownership of Premier League club Manchester City by Emirati royal Mansour bin Zayed has already courted controversy and accusations of 'sportswashing' human rights records of Middle East despotic regimes.

Amnesty International accused the club last year of attempting to cover up the UAE's "deeply tarnished image" with sporting success.

City was also accused last year by Der Spiegel of breaking UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, which prevent clubs from spending more than they earn.

One deal which allegedly broke the FFP rules was a £7 million-a-year deal with Arabtec, the UAE’s largest construction company. Human rights organisations say abuse of migrant workers is endemic at Arabtec.

Aside from allegations of human rights abuses in their own countries, state owners are considered problematic by many football fans.

Sovereign wealth funds can offer clubs huge injections of cash which are unavailable to others, leading to what some call an "artificial" inflation of their place in the league tables.

The greater the available funds, the more major players and coaches clubs are able to lure in.

Despite threats to boycott from United fans, others anticipate that the club could regain its place at the top of the league, where the club sat while City was in 14th place more than ten years ago. United is currently placed fourth in the Premier League.

Many fans welcome the opportunity to regain the club's former glory and rid it of debt, which is higher than that of any other European club - £487 million as of 2018.

Some fear United may become embroiled in FFP violations like City and Saudi-linked sponsorship deals, especially if other sponsors flee from controversy over the Khashoggi killing, detention of women’s rights activists and dissidents in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia has denied Mohammed bin Salman is personally involved in the bid for United, but seemed to confirm interest in doing business with the club.

"Manchester United held a meeting with [the Public Investment Fund of] Saudi to discuss [a] sponsorship opportunity," Saudi Media Minister Turki al-Shabanah tweeted on Monday.

But reports of the crown prince’s bid to buy the club, are "completely false", he claimed.