Soft Power, Sports Washing and FM22

This isn’t going to be stats driven, or a Herr Lipp story. There’s not going to be much fun in this one. Unless you really enjoy talking about Sports Washing.

I’ve not got FM22 yet. I’ve been busy with work and had FM21 to finish off so I’ve not been in a massive rush to play. The urge is there but honestly I’ve not had much choice but to resist. I’ll dive in soon I’m sure. It has meant I’ve had plenty of time to watch everyone else enjoying themselves on twitter. Including Miles posting about how many games have been played and pounds spent on transfers so far.

A lot of those transfer pounds seem to have been spent by people playing as Newcastle. I’ve lost track of people having a go with the new wealth that the North East has been lacking for years.

New owners, new money, and I guess new moral issues to deal with. Zero-hours and working till giving birth in the toilet have now been swapped out for butchering journalists, capital punishment and horrific human rights records.

There have been debates, arguments, and plenty of heat on twitter and other platforms about it all. I can imagine it’s been pretty horrific as a Newcastle fan to have to deal with it all. Not quite having your rights suppressed and being beheaded bad, but you know, rough. There have been fans saying it’s a step too far for them, but plenty more pointing to the fact that there are other owners with similar records. There’s even a line being taken by some that it’s not up to fans to deal with the moral issues of ownership if the FA and the like are not.

And yet, while we’re telling it like it is, there is also something wretched, hypocritical and deeply depressing in English football’s willingness to welcome into its elite members’ club the blood-soaked, repressive, deeply discriminatory Saudi state.

Barney Ronay, Guardian

I’m not a Newcastle supporter, but I did have a soft spot for them. They were a very likeable club. And I know it must be hard for fans, but it still feels pretty straight forward to me. This is sports washing, and a lot of fans and figures are engaging in sports washing without realising it. It’s not the greatest article in the world, but there’s one by Football365 that highlights a lot of the issues. By justifying the ownership, or ignoring it, or using the Man City/Qatar argument, or anything that doesn’t directly address the issue at the heart of it is to an extent sports washing. The human rights abuses are taking a back seat to football, and the passion of fans is being used to do it. Most fans aren’t vile or malicious but the passion they have for the club has them doing mental gymnastics to square up the obvious issue with the owners and the love of the club. Every statement that has that trailing “…but..” in it is in some way lessening the impact and importance of the issue.

In this light the comparison with Ashley, the assumption that Newcastle has finally found its prince, seems to involve a degree of cognitive dissonance. Infuriating tracksuit vendor v blood-stained dictatorship. Zero-hours sport-shop contracts v beheading 37 people in a single day. Hiring Dennis Wise v bombing Yemen. Is it really obvious that one of these – the beheading one – is so much more desirable than the other?

Barney Ronay, Guardian

In terms of real world football it seems clear to me. Boycott them. Boycott Man City. Boycott any club or competition that attempts to engage in Sports Washing. This isn’t a regime that looks a little old-fashioned. We are talking actual blood and suffering. And to be clear here, this isn’t a critique of just Newcastle fans. I understand it’s difficult, and I understand other clubs have similar issues. I understand the Psychology of trying to square aware the love for one thing and the moral issues of another. The cognitive dissonance is very real there.

FM22 and Sports Washing

What does this even have to do with FM22? It’s a game. This is a blog about a game. Even though the owners might be morally objectionable, it doesn’t mean they don’t get put in the game. Sports Interactive try to make it as realistic as possible and try to remove any judgement. After all the Qatar World Cup is in the game, and Man City and their owners are in the game too. There are plenty more examples of ugly reality being in the game.

I don’t expect it to be different for Newcastle and FM22. I just thought more people would resit the urge to play and be involved in the sports washing narrative. Or maybe I should say resit the urge to play and talk about it without the context of the human rights issues. Playing it privately, fine. Playing it and publicly engaging in the Newcastle narrative that doesn’t include questions like, “Great signing, pity the transfer got leaked to the press, and you’re now one journalist down in the press pool.” is I think a little problematic. Again, this isn’t a personal attack on people who have played, or blogged, or recorded FM22 content about Newcastle. I understand it, I just can’t do it. And it makes me sad that not only has sports washing for the owners been so effective in real life but it’s also done it’s job here in FM. It shows how insidious it is.

I know it’s not real. I know it’s a place for escapism. But sports washing works on the intangibles. It’s soft power. And how can people, friends, family who might be oppressed by the owners because of their identity escape fully into a game and the FM community? If they are constantly shown reminders that people value their rights unless you get hold of a £200m transfer budget? The disconnect between the people and community that rightly point out how important inclusion and equal rights are and the fact that a club made rich by owners who abuse in some of the worst possible ways those rights is upsetting.

We have a game that tries to boot out racism, has rainbow motifs, allows news items for players to come out, will eventually have women’s football in, and has now included more gender neutral/inclusive language. Yet we also have people who say how important that is whilst not batting an eye at spending the virtual money from a regime that would support none of that. Would in fact crush and punish any hints of that.

To me, the fact FM22 is just a game makes the inability to resist sports washing even more of an issue. If we can’t boycott a virtual team on a game filled with thousands of alternatives, what hope do we have in the real world?

So for me I won’t be playing as Newcastle. Just like I haven’t and won’t manage Man City. I won’t be playing the Qatar World Cup in game (and I won’t be watching it in real life). It’s a bit irksome but arguably easier on the conscience than the alternative. Everyone is free to do as they please, this isn’t a judgement on individuals. Maybe in the long term it makes no difference. But in the short term I don’t want to be part of it.