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, 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!”

A year later? Qatari businessman Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani bought the “Anchovies” and there ended the deal with William Hill – the new owner cancelled the contract, the name of Unesco, the UN cultural agency, now appearing on the team’s shirts.

Back at Newcastle they’ll trust it’ll all work out, somehow. It isn’t, of course, the first time they’ve had problems with sponsorship by a financial institution, Northern Rock becoming the first bank in 150 years to suffer a “run” in 2007, at the same time their name appeared on Newcastle’s shirts.

Opposition fans were, needless to say, kind about it all “you should have banked with The Woolwich” among the more friendly chants at the time.

Turns out that Lewis Hamailton is a bit of a tweet

Sizzling cheeks of the week: Lewis Hamilton.

Monday: “Just noticed @jensonbutton unfollowed (me), that’s a shame . . . I thought we respected one another but clearly he doesn’t.”

Not long after . . .

“My bad just found out Jenson never followed me. Don’t blame him!”


Lance the only dope remaining 

Despite the findings of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which, you might have heard, published its reasons this week for deciding to strip Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and to ban him from the sport for life – “The most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen” – the American was not without his supporters, not least Nike.

In a statement they first released in August, the company said it planned “to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation”, while being “saddened” that he “may no longer be able to participate in certain competitions and his titles appear to be impacted”.

Impacted? Well, yes.

British cyclist Alex Dowsett, meanwhile, claimed Armstrong was still “a legend of the sport”, later telling the BBC “I don’t think I could shake his hand” after receiving a bit of heat.

Samuel Sanchez, the 2008 Olympic road race champion, insisted Armstrong “remains innocent until the contrary is proved”, despite the report detailing testimony from 26 witnesses, including 11 former team-mates.

“About all the accusations that have been poured against him,” he said, “we have to see what is the goal of all of them, whether it is an economic motive or they want to harm his image”.

Another cyclist, Stephen Cummings, in what some labelled “the Jimmy Savile defence”, said: “It is easy to point your finger on all the bad things, but you could look at the good things he has done as well . . . like his cancer charity.”

Need it be said, Joey Barton took to Twitter to share his views, although it’s unlikely cycling appreciated his intervention: “I am not for one minute condoning Lance Armstrong’s drug abuse but the man is still a legend. Drugs seem quite the ‘norm’ in that sport.”

Bradley Wiggins, the reigning Tour de France champion, was, though, less forgiving, describing the evidence against Armstrong as damning.

But he dismissed the notion that his titles should be awarded to those who finished just behind him.

“Strip him of his titles and give them to second place – who’s already tested positive and been banned from the sport? Give it to third place who’s subsequently been banned?

“There was one year where they’d have to go down to fifth place to award the victory – it’s almost irrelevant now, there’s a void in those seven years that Lance won the Tour.”

As the cartoonist in The Montreal Gazette put it, “Dopestrong”.

Last word to David Schneider, who describes himself as an “actor, writer, comedian, fool”. “Lance Armstrong isn’t even the worst offender in cycling history. Look at this guy. What the hell was he on?”

You’ll have to phone home to get the answer to that.

The Final Straw: Harrison has to put up with a brush with cruelty

Cruellest sporting research of the week?

That’d be the survey carried out by betting exchange Betfair on 40-year-old boxer (left) Audley Harrison’s comeback fight against David Price.

The two meet tonight at the Liverpool Echo Arena.

“Research has revealed that more than three quarters (78 per cent) of British boxing fans would rather watch paint dry than the heavyweight boxer,” reported the London Metro.

“With that in mind Betfair are giving boxing fans exactly what they want – uninterrupted coverage of a wall of wet magnolia.

“If the online video of a wall of paint drying receives more than 10,000 views, the betting giants are willing to donate £5,000 to a charity of Audley’s choice.”

Ah now.

Harrison, though, was doing his best all week to make folk all tingly about his return.

“It is very hard for a rose to grow from the concrete, but I found a way,” he said.

“The failure I have had and overcome is like the Titanic going through the iceberg.”

His heart goes on, bless him.

McIlroy flags at the thought of global fame

PADDY BARNES, it’s probably fair to say, wasn’t overly impressed with Pat Hickey’s comments on the Rory McIlroy Olympic-gate business this week after the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland said: “I will say to Rory that if he declares for Ireland, then he will automatically put himself in pole position to carry the Tricolour into the stadium in Rio.”

And with that Barnes took to Twitter: “I see Pat Hickey crawling to Rory McIlroy about carrying the flag at the next Olympics, what a ……….” (we’ll leave out the last word, it being before the watershed).

It was Hickey’s comments on what the flag-carrying business would do for McIlroy’s profile, though, that got some sporty anoraks thinking.

“Can you just imagine what something like this would do for Rory McIlroy? It would suddenly catapult him into the realms of being one of the most instantly recognisable sporting faces on the planet. Because make no mistake about it, that’s what carrying the flag does for people,” said Hickey of the world number one and two-time Major champion whose photo now appears in the planet’s papers if he as much as scratches his nose.

Go on then anoraks, name the six Irish athletes who have carried the flag for Ireland in the summer Olympics’ opening ceremonies since the nineties? Hint: 2012 – Katie Taylor; 2008 – Ciara Peelo; 2004 – Niall Griffin; 2000 – Sonia O’Sullivan; 1996 – Francie Barrett; 1992 – Michelle Smith.

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