Lucrative sports events are increasingly used by countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to “launder their image,” as Amnesty International UK stated.
These three countries are accused of human rights atrocities, yet, they host some of the world’s most profitable athletic events and use sports to make headlines.
Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of campaigns, said “They are using and increasingly seeing sport as an opportunity to launder their image,” as reported by NPR.
“Sportswashing” is a term used to describe this practice.
“It’s the process whereby a country or regime with a particularly poor human rights record uses sport as a way of creating positive headlines, positive spin about their countries,” Jakens added.
The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will be held in China, while Qatar will host the World Cup in 2018, and Saudi Arabia has spent considerably in high-profile athletic events.
These and other countries have been using sports as a cover-up to hide their dismal human rights records, according to human rights groups and others who have expressed their concerns.
Saudi Arabia’s ownership of English Premier League team Newcastle United was attacked by the rights group last month. Reports claim that Saudi Arabia’s government-owned Public Investment Fund bought an 80 percent share in the English soccer team for $400 million.
Sacha Deshmukh, CEO of Amnesty International UK, explained: “Ever since this deal was first talked about we said it represented a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football.”
The purchase of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabian officials is only the latest in a long line of sports-related investments. According to a new Grant Liberty analysis, more than $1.5 billion has been invested in premier athletic events in recent years. Sporting events such as golf tournaments for men and women and professional wrestling are also held at the venue.
Formula One will have a race in Saudi Arabia in October 2022 for the first time. The Grand Prix will be held in Jiddah, a port city, on Dec. 5 at a new racetrack. Liberty Media Corp., which owns Formula One (F1), has announced a 10-year contract for $650 million with Saudi Arabia.
There will also be a variety of musical acts during the Saudi F1 event. Pop singer Justin Bieber, who is set to headline the off-kilter event, is under increasing pressure to cancel his visit.
In an open letter published by The Washington Post, Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of killed Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, encouraged the Canadian singer, Justin Bieber to “send a powerful message” and let the world know that his name and talent will not be used to restore the reputation of regime that kills the critics.