German club Mainz 05 have resisted calls from their own supporters to cancel a pre-season friendly against Newcastle United in protest at the fact the English club is owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
The Bundesliga side’s board had been urged to cancel the friendly by fans angered by the fact they would be profiting from a fixture against a club that is effectively owned by the Saudi state.
In an open letter, a supporter group argued it was wrong to play the game as the purchase of Newcastle was a sportswashing project that tainted Mainz by association.
“The motive for this was probably less the enthusiasm for football or the identification with the club Newcastle United than the so-called ‘sportwashing’ – the attempt to polish the image of Saudi Arabia by entering international football,” the letter penned by Mainz E.V read.
“We recall that Saudi Arabia is not only an absolute monarchy in which democratic participation of its citizens has no place, but a country in which fundamental human rights are systematically disregarded.
“Suppression of freedom of expression and religion, persecution of homosexuals, oppression of women, use of caning and the death penalty are part of the laws there. Newcastle United is not just a football club, but a vehicle for asserting the interests of a regime that tramples on human rights and whose policies are diametrically opposed to the value and mission statement of Mainz 05.
“At a time when authoritarian states, large corporations or billionaires are taking over international football in order to assert their interests, it is no longer possible to separate football and politics. With the decision to play a friendly against Newcastle United, Mainz 05 is sending a signal, and not a good one at that. This game sends out the signal that the values of the mission statement are not binding when it comes to choosing opponents for a friendly…
“With a game against Newcastle United, Mainz also actively offers the Saudi regime a stage and thus indirectly recognises it politically. We call on Mainz 05: take a stand! Read your mission statement! Cancel the game against Newcastle United!”
However, the game on July 18 will go ahead after Mainz board met to discuss the protest letter and decided against a postponement.
“A friendly against a big English club is first of all a really good test for us. It’s also important for our team’s pre-season preparations,” said Mainz chairman Stefan Hofmann.
“After weighing up our options and not having an appropriate alternative opponent of this standard available, we agreed to play this game.
“We didn’t expect the reaction we got from some fans. We respect them and regret that these concerns have arisen because it’s our responsibility to start the new season as one big unit together with our fans.” The Mainz clash is the second of Newcastle’s two friendlies in Austria this month, with a game against 1860 Munich taking place on July 15th.