Abu Dhabi accused of ‘using Manchester City to launder image’
Torture ‘a systematic practice’ in United Arab Emirates
Manchester City is run by Khaldoon al-Mubarak, the chairman, a senior Abu Dhabi government and business figure, who works principally for Sheikh Mohammed. Mubarak is the chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority, a strategic government body responsible for advising on Abu Dhabi’s international image. He was deputed from his duties for Sheikh Mohammed to run City shortly after Mansour bought the club, to shape a more dignified direction after the initial frenzy of media coverage which was all about money and considered detrimental by the Abu Dhabi establishment.
Mubarak has always emphasised that City is a private business acquisition by Sheikh Mansour, with Mubarak charged to make it profitable, worth more than the £1bn spent, in 10 years. The Premier League club, though, have unquestionably become the most prominent global projection of Abu Dhabi itself, sponsored by four state-owned companies: the airline Etihad, the telecommunications company Etisalat, the investment company Aabar and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. When David Silva, Sergio Agüero and Yaya Touré weave their patterns in the Etihad Stadium, the hoardings around the pitch beam “Visit Abu Dhabi, Travellers Welcome” to the 200 countries where Premier League football is viewed – a great global advert.
In an interview with the Guardian in 2009, Mubarak said of the running of City: “This is telling a lot to the world about how we are. It is showing the world … the true essence of … what Abu Dhabi is about. There is almost a personification of the values we hold as Abu Dhabi, with the values of the club and the values we would like to stick to.”
Nicholas McGeehan, UAE researcher for HRW, describes the country in the light of the recent trial as increasingly “a black hole” for many basic human rights: “In this situation, a Premier League club is being used as a branding vehicle to promote and effectively launder the reputation of a country perpetrating serial human rights abuses,” he said. “That should be of concern to football supporters as well as human rights organisations.”