Newcastle gamble on shirt sponsor
HOLD THE BACK PAGE:IT WAS back in 2007 that then West Ham winger Matthew Etherington revealed he had a serious gambling addiction that had left him with debts of £800,000 and, he claimed, resulted in him receiving death threats because he couldn’t pay them off. In all, he reckoned he’d lost £1.5 million on gambling.
Etherington sought help from Tony Adam’s Sporting Chance clinic and West Ham stood by him, advancing him £300,000 in wages to help clear some of the debt. He was, needless to say, rather grateful.
He might have been less impressed, though, under the circumstances, with West Ham’s new shirt sponsor, the one they signed a deal with after the collapse of their previous partner, travel firm XL.
Yes, when Etherington donned his new West Ham jersey he found himself advertising online sports bookmakers SBOBET.
All a bit awkward, but it’s nothing compared to the tricky situation Newcastle United find themselves in after signing their own shirt deal with short-term loan company Wonga, one that is worth £24 million over four years.
Four of the club’s leading players – Hatem Ben Arfa, Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba and Cheick Tiote – happen to be Muslim, and all four have been warned by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) that if they were to wear the shirts next season, when the deal kicks in, with Wonga emblazoned across the front, they would be infringing Sharia law.
Sharia law prohibits Muslims from earning interest from loans, and the stricter interpretation of the law would forbid those practising the faith from promoting any business involved in the area.
Wonga has been heavily criticised for its interest rates, the London Independent calculating this week that “if a Newcastle supporter took out a loan to purchase a £49.99 club shirt, he would have to repay £71.92 after one month – a rate that would be equivalent to 4,212 per cent over a year.”
“I’m appalled and sickened that they would sign a deal with a legal loan shark,” Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle City Council, told the paper.
“It’s a sad indictment of the profit-at-any-price culture at Newcastle United. We are fighting hard to tackle legal and illegal loan sharking and having a company like this right across the city on every football shirt that’s sold undermines all our work.”
The opposition to the deal, then, is ecumenical, but for practising Muslims it presents a particular problem. As does, similarly, sponsorship by gambling companies.
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary general of the MCB, is asking that the Newcastle quartet be exempted from wearing Wonga’s logo, citing the example of Frederic Kanoute, when he was with Seville, who refused to wear the name of their sponsor, gambling website 888.com, on his shirt. The club, therefore, allowed him wear a shirt in games featuring no sponsor’s name at all.
And back in the summer of 2009 betting company William Hill announced a sponsorship deal with Spanish La Liga side, Malaga CF. “The Andalusian club will don the William Hill logo over the next three seasons,” they announced, “we hope that this sponsorship will bring the brand to the fore with the legions of football fans from all the clubs across Spain.
“When the ‘Anchovies’ play Barcelona or Real, we won’t be the underdog – we’ll be here to watch them surprise the big guns!”