Thursday, 18 July 2013

Cissé out of Newcastle pre-season tour amid Wonga controversy

Ben Finn looks at Papiss Cisse's falling out with Newcastle over their sponsor

Having ostensibly being forced to train alone upon his return to Benton Park (Newcastle’s training ground) last week, Papiss Demba Cissé is to miss out on Newcastle’s pre-season tour of Portugal this week as a result of his refusal to wear any apparel endorsing the payday loan company Wonga.

Details of the discussions between Cissé’s team and Newcastle are unclear, with some reports saying he was dropped by the club and others saying he pulled out himself. What we do know is that Cissé has offered to wear either a shirt advertising a charity or with no sponsor at all. Evidently this is unsatisfactory to the powers that be.

Cissé’s refusal to endorse Wonga is borne out of an interpretation of Sharia law that states that a Muslim cannot benefit financially from lending or receiving money. There is, however, a precedent for this kind of protest. Freddie Kanouté, whilst playing for Sevilla, objected to the “” sponsor for similar reasons to Cissé. Sevilla respected Kanouté’s views and as a result allowed him to cover the sponsor when playing and did not make him attend events sponsored by the gambling website. This was a refreshingly mature negotiation for a modern football club that demonstrated how much Sevilla valued Kanouté’s beliefs. Hopefully an analogous mutually beneficial solution can be found at Newcastle.

On the other hand, whilst there is no doubt that Wonga opposes Cissé’s views, should he not have taken the same stance in the past? Newcastle’s previous two sponsors were Virgin Money and Northern Rock, both of whom charge interest on their loans and pay interest on holders’ deposits. Admittedly, Wonga’s APR is over 4000%, but surely interest is interest regardless of the percentage.

This raises questions of ulterior motives for Cissé’s protest. It is rumoured that the striker could be using the issue as leverage over the board to either hand him a new contract, or sell him. However, I am sceptical of most ‘rumours’ designed to fill column inches during the summer transfer window during which bored journalists (present company included) and agents try to whip up a storm over nothing.

Nevertheless, considering the string of PR disasters that have plagued Newcastle in recent months - renaming St James’ Park, the Wonga sponsorship and the Joe Kinnear debacle - allowing Cissé to follow his religious beliefs seems to me a good place to stop the rot. Furthermore, PFA chief executive Bobby Barnes has told the BBC that "[i]f someone feels very, very strongly that it [the club sponsor] is not compatible with their beliefs, then some sort of solution should be found."

Clearly, Cissé does feel “very, very strongly” and a solution should be found. As a Newcastle fan myself, I just hope the solution involves him remaining at the club - mainly out of fear of Shola Ameobi being handed the number 9 shirt.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Whose Tottenham?

Local residents are fighting back against the gentrification led by Tottenham Hotspur's stadium redevelopment plans. Spurs fan Joel Sharples looks at how the club has let down the community it is supposedly a part of. 

The recent protest movement in Brazil has drawn the world’s attention to the way in which sport-led development can act to disenfranchise, uproot and divert funding away from low-income communities. Less attention, however, has been given to the strikingly similar dynamics at work on a smaller scale in North London, where residents of Tottenham are facing eviction from their homes as a result of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club’s stadium redevelopment plans. The #AgainstModernFootball concept is gaining traction at the moment and perhaps this is emblematic of why – football clubs are now not just disconnected from the communities that they are a part of; they are actively contributing to the destruction of those communities.

You might have thought that the 11th richest club in the world that stands to make windfall gains of over £100m over the next three years from the new TV revenue deal might be able to dredge up the additional £5m that is supposedly needed to release private investment for the new stadium. Instead they are turning to Haringey council, who intend to raise the £5m through the sale of the Love Lane/Whitehall Street estate, which sits between White Hart Lane station and the stadium. This could lead to the demolition of nearly 300 council homes, with residents being kept in the dark about whether they will be found suitable accommodation in the area. Given that Haringey has one of the longest council housing waiting lists in the country, with 10% of all households in the borough on the list, it is highly unlikely that they will.

Spurs have played their cards well with the council in recent years, using the threat of exodus to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford to squeeze ever-greater amounts of public subsidy from Haringey Council and the Greater London Authority. In 2011 the council leader Claire Kober stated that no public money would go into the development and Spurs would provide £15-16m in Section 106 funding to redevelop the local area. Nine months later a £17m public funding package was on the table and by January 2012 this was raised to £41.3m with almost all of Spurs’s S106 obligations dropped. Ironically, this is almost exactly the sum that Spurs challenged in the courts as illegal “state aid” when it was offered by Newham Council to West Ham to develop the Olympic Stadium.

Perhaps most cynical, and audacious, is how they tapped into £8.5 million of the £50 million set aside by Boris Johnson to develop areas affected by the August 2011 riots. In doing so, they have effectively cashed in on the social unrest in Tottenham to fund a stadium that will provide huge profits for shareholders and little if any benefit to the surrounding community. The money will essentially go towards funding the improvements to infrastructure surrounding the stadium that Spurs would have had to provide anyway to cope with the extra 20,000-odd fans travelling to the area on match days.

But what is most concerning for local residents is how THFC has shirked its responsibility to provide affordable housing at the same time as it is destroying existing council-owned homes. In its initial plans Spurs had an obligation to provide 100 affordable homes alongside 100 to be sold on the open market. This in itself was pitifully low given the housing crisis in Haringey, but in 2012 the council responded to Spurs’s blackmailing by waiving this requirement as well as the £1.2 million that had been promised to improve local schools. Instead the club has been allowed to build 285 homes that will be sold at market rates. These will be overwhelmingly one and two bedroom flats that will no doubt be snapped up by City workers enjoying the improved overground links to central London, also paid for with public money. This will contribute to pushing up rents in the area which, combined with the benefits cap which has been introduced in Haringey, could force large numbers of low-income families out of their homes.

As a lifelong Spurs fan the slow realization that the club I love is no different to any other large corporation in its parasitism and disrespect for community life has been a painful one. However, as stakeholders in the club and potential punters at the new stadium, I think fans have a responsibility to show solidarity with those who will be affected and potentially displaced by the new development.

Local residents and traders have been mobilising to resist the current wave of gentrification that is sweeping through Tottenham, driven by the stadium redevelopment plans. Our Tottenham are organising a street assembly this Saturday 6th July to say no to the threat of evictions, high rents and loss of community services and demand the improvements that the neighbourhood actually needs.

Follow Joel on Twitter: @JoelJBSharples

Brazil Protests: Implications for 2014

In the first of a series of new blogs looking at broader dynamics in football and social change, Ben Finn analyses the causes and results of the recent protest movement in Brazil

Over 1 million people lined the streets across Brazil on 20th June to protest about a variety of injustices from Dilma Rousseff’s government. A proposed rise in Sao Paulo bus fares was the catalyst, but the reasons behind the demonstrations have flitted between the interconnected motives of anger at poor public services, outrage at the pervasiveness of political corruption and the lavish expenditure on the 2014 World Cup.

At 28 billion rials ($12.6 billion), Brazil’s World Cup is by far the most expensive ever - three times the cost of Germany 2006. Considering the plight of public services across much of the country, it would appear that the protestors have a legitimate grievance.

Writing in the Guardian last week (and having spoken to the BBC a few weeks ago), star striker-turned-Congressman Romario lamented the expense of the tournament. Even if we must take Romario’s comments with a pinch of party political salt, he still makes a number of interesting and valid points. What stood out to me was the tax-free profit of R$4 billion FIFA stands to make from the tournament. Equally, the terrible state into which Brazil’s school system has got itself makes it almost surprising that the protests took so long to erupt. Though falling export demand has lead to dwindling GDP growth and inflationary pressures over the past couple of years, which has undoubtedly jolted awake any previously dormant social tensions.

The fact that the protestors are not affiliated to one of Brazil’s thirty political parties has meant that their message hasn’t been as clear as it might have. What is clear, however, is that most Brazilians are not against the World Cup per se, but they are angry about the lack of ‘legacy’ that the tournament will have. According to The Economist, airports remain mired in the last century and at least five of the host cities have admitted that the bus lanes, metros and monorails they had promised will not be ready before kickoff.

There is, though, a sizable group who are anti-World Cup; their message is outlined in this video ( But the sentiment of the video seems clouded to me, it kind of suggests that the World Cup should only be held in rich, developed countries which would be detrimental to world football as a whole in my opinion. Clearly the government has spent way beyond its means but I don’t think confining future World Cups to OECD countries is the answer.

FIFA has, quite rightly, come in for a fair amount of criticism firstly for the extravagance of the plans for the World Cup and secondly for its handling of the resulting protests. Corinthians has blamed FIFA for doubling the cost of its new stadium with its lavish demands.

Moreover, Brazilian officials were apparently “surprised” by the fact that Sepp Blatter high-tailed it out of the country as soon as the unrest erupted. These officials are either extremely polite or unaware of the calibre of man they are dealing with. FIFA has been unsurprisingly silent on the issue but to be fair it is probably not in their interest to get involved in Brazilian domestic affairs.

The fact is that the protests have instigated change: a new constituent assembly to consider political reform; making corruption a felony (previously it was just a misdemeanour); a promise to invest $R50 billion; and increased spending on health and education. This is an undeniably positive outcome that has, according to Rousseff, “strengthened democracy” in Brazil. But it does set a precedent for potential further unrest in twelve months time the next time the world is watching.

It is a shame in a way that what has been a thoroughly entertaining Confederations Cup on the pitch will most probably be remembered for the accompanying protests. My only hope is that, like the British did last summer, the next summer’s World Cup will lift Brazilian spirits and leave them looking forward to – rather than dreading – the Olympics they are staging in 2016.

Next summer Football Beyond Borders will go to Salvador in Brazil to put on the "Legacy Games", a project that aims to bring students from around the world together with local communities to work on long-lasting solutions to social problems in their city. If you would like to find out more about our Brazil 2014 project, please email