A sponsorship deal between Real Madrid and Saudi Arabia, revealed by the Times newspaper, is unacceptable, as it would condone the theft of UK intellectual property and fail to tackle the “state-sponsored” pirating of Premier League football matches and other sporting events, says sports think-tank.

Leaked documents appear to reveal that Real Madrid is in advanced talks with Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Qiddiya project as part of a €150 million (£130 million) sponsorship deal that would include becoming the lead sponsor for the club’s women’s team.

According to the Times newspaper, it has seen two separate documents detailing the proposed partnership, despite the failure by Riyadh to deal with the “systemic pirating” of major sporting events, including Premier League games. 

FIFA Ethics & Regulations Watch, the sports think-tank, is highly critical of the proposed sponsorship deal and believes the British government should make representations to both the EU and UEFA aimed at protecting UK intellectual property and preventing the practice of “sports-washing”.

Alistair Thompson, FERW’s UK Campaign Director commented:

“This is the latest attempt by Saudi authorities to sports-wash their appalling behaviour. Just last year, a syndicate, that was 80 per-cent-owned by Riyadh, attempted to purchase Newcastle United, but this was halted because of the significant concerns about the human rights abuses in the Kingdom and the alleged state-sponsored, systemic pirating of flagship sporting events, including Premier League games.”

Human rights abuse included authorising the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and journalist for The Washington Post, human rights activists facing being jailed with little or no access to fair trials or judicial rights, and the increasing use of online espionage against its’ opponents.

There is also the well-documented involvement of the regime in Yemen, such as the bombing of civilians.

Indeed, several Members of Parliament, who sit on the Joint Human Rights Committee, including its’ Chair, the Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP, raised concerns about the conduct of Saudi Arabia.

These concerns have been echoed by groups such as Amnesty International UK. Speaking last year, Felix Jakens, the head of priority campaigns at the campaign group was reported as describing attempts to buy Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia as an attempt to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football as a PR tool to distract from the country’s abysmal human rights record.

“There’s a name for this – it’s called sports-washing,” he said.

Sports-washing is the process whereby regimes with questionable records on human rights pour money into sport and major events to improve their public image.

The tactic of sports-washing is by no means limited to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or to the sport of football, as several regimes with poor human rights records and companies with poor environmental records are engaged in this practice and across different sports. 

Mr Thompson continued:

“The government must stand up for British sport and intellectual property by making representations to the EU and UEFA that any deal between Saudi Arabia and Real Madrid is unacceptable until they improve their abysmal human rights record and stop condoning the pirating of Premier League matches and other British sporting events.”     

Previously, the UK Government acknowledged concerns about the Human Rights record of the Saudi regime saying:

“…The UK government remains concerned over the continued detention of a number of individuals, particularly political detainees, human rights defenders and women’s rights defenders. We raise concerns about individual cases regularly and will continue to call for due process and adequate legal representation. …We strongly oppose the death penalty in all countries and in all circumstances, as a matter of principle. Saudi Arabia remains a Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights priority country and no aspect of our relationship with Saudi Arabia prevents us from speaking frankly about human rights.” 

But the Government has been less forthright about the illegal broadcasting of sports programmes by the illegal streaming and satellite broadcaster beoutQ, despite a ruling last year by the World Trade Organization that found Saudi Arabia had breached international piracy laws.

Mr Thompson concluded:

“It’s vital that the government stands up for British interests and intellectual property and sends a clear message to both the EU and UEFA that, until Saudi Arabia cleans up its act, any attempt to sponsor or purchase flagship sporting institutions like Real Madrid should be rejected.”


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