If you are a football fan and support any of Chelsea, Manchester City or Newcastle United with an interest in human rights, you're probably going through a crisis of conscience right now.
The fact that Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich has been sanctioned by the UK government and later disqualified by the Premier League board, because of having a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, raises a number of questions regarding the club owners in European football.
Is Abramovich the only one with dodgy money and background? Or was it unknown to the authority until he offered himself as the peace broker between Ukraine and Russia? Are the other owners all clear in terms of corruption and human rights?
The simple answer to the questions would be, 'NO'.
Football and football supporters turned a blind eye to the origin of Roman Abramovich's wealth after the recent events in the last few weeks. But Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, speaking in a press conference on Friday, said that the dirty money in football has been coming in for a long time now and people within the sport are at fault.
"It is pretty obvious where the money is coming from. Everyone knew it, but we accepted it. That's our fault. It is society's fault," Klopp said.
"Did anyone really care when Roman Abramovich came to Chelsea? Did anyone really care when Newcastle got taken over? Do supporters really care? It is a question," he added.
Abramovich owns 29% of a steel and coal company, Evraz, that allegedly provided raw material to build Russian tanks in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, several media outlets reported over the last couple of weeks. But the company denied the allegations saying it provided steel only to the "infrastructure and construction sectors".
The sanctioned Chelsea owner continues to have a super relationship with Vladimir Putin and football was the lesser but still significant part of it. It has been claimed that Abramovich's purchase of Chelsea was personally ordered by the Russian President. The deal worth £140million was done and dusted in 20 minutes in June 2003.
According to The Guardian, Abramovich not only assisted Putin in successfully bidding for the sports-washing 2018 World Cup, but he was also required by the Russian president to pay for some of it "in partnership with the state".
Amidst all the Abramovich chaos, Chelsea hosted Newcastle United, who are now owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) led by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, on Sunday. The flow of wealth from billionaires is not new and in the recent past money from the Middle East has found its way to the top rungs of football.
The initial move for the Newcastle takeover was turned down in 2020 by previous club owners over various disputes, including the human rights concerns, flagged by activists. Many activists have alleged that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Arabia are using this to cleanse their reputation globally and to shift the discussion from the lack of democracy in the country.
The oil-rich country has been long known for human rights abuses, a war in Yemen that has been going on for seven years, killing or starving hundreds of thousands, the vast majority believed to be children under five.
MBS allegedly approved an operation to capture or kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, a US intelligence report said last year.
But sure they just have a good relationship with the Riyadh government, the same as Abramovich just has a good relationship with Putin. And you didn't see any "Which owner knows the guy who's killed more children?" banner on the stands.
The current EPL table toppers, Manchester City and their owners Sheikh Monsur, have been continuously criticised by Amnesty International for trying to "sports-wash" their country's "deeply tarnished image" by pouring money into the Premier League club.
The human rights group's intervention even increased the pressure on football's governing bodies to investigate a series of incendiary allegations against the club, including a deal for sports rights involving a shell company controlled by a major donor to the Tory party via a series of companies and trusts operating in tax havens.
They even dodged bans for splashing millions breaking the Fifa Fair Play (FFP) rules easily. Funnelling these crazy amounts of dirty money into the club has led to an unnatural progression in the stature of the club, unlike the organic growth of other big clubs, and this is exactly why English football is heavily criticised.
"The UAE's enormous investment in Manchester City is one of football's most brazen attempts to 'sports-wash' a country's deeply tarnished image through the glamour of the game," said Amnesty International's Gulf researcher Devin Kenney.
And don't forget the former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who bought the club for £81.6m in the summer of 2007. Thaksin had presided over "very serious human rights violations" according to Amnesty.
Any moral concerns about his history of human rights violations, brutal drugs war in Thailand and alleged corruption were swiftly forgotten as he started splashing his dirty money; but with Thaksin's assets frozen, he was actually financially crippled and in the end departed almost as soon as he had arrived.
In August 2021, Al Jazeera in their 'The Men Who Sell Football' revealed that English football clubs can be bought by criminals to launder the proceeds of their crimes. It showed a middle-man admitting to the fact that criminals' money and identity are hidden behind offshore trusts before submitting fraudulent due-diligence reports to English football authorities. It also showed 'dirty tricks' being used to obtain new passports for the criminals with new names, to deceive football authorities.
Christopher Samuelson, who is regarded as 'The Magician' in the Al Jazeera documentary, revealed how he arranged a deal using opaque offshore trusts for a secretive Russian tycoon to buy Premier League club, Everton, in 2004. The deal eventually fell through after the tycoon's name, Boris Zingarevich, was leaked to the media a few days later.
In 2012 and 2016 respectively, 'The Magician' set up deals for the purchase of two more English clubs – Reading and Aston Villa. Both were taken to the brink of financial ruin under mysterious new owners.
The same way Birmingham City found themselves in the hands of Carson Yeung, a Hong Kong-based investor convicted in 2014 of money laundering and sentenced to six years in prison.
In terms of 'sports-washing', Qatar probably beats them all.
French club Paris Saint-Germain are owned by Qatar. Qatar also sponsors Bayern Munich and Roma and has a "foundation" project with Real Madrid.
Qatar hosting the upcoming Fifa World Cup 2022 has already raised serious questions about human rights and how they acquired the hosting license. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who was charged with alleged bribery to former Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke over his role in the awarding of Fifa World Cup rights in 2020, has been the public figurehead of the Parisian outfit since Qatar Sports Investment's takeover in 2011.
According to BBC Sport, he was also charged with corruption in the bidding for the World Athletics Championship held in Doha in 2019.
We know, crime breeds crime. And when an owner buys a club with his laundered or washed money, he will want to use it in a negative way to earn more and more money. This has led to an increase in match-fixing over the past decade which completely destroys the very essence of sports. The usage of the football world for money laundering has led to the corruption of athletes and other people involved with this beautiful game.
Football seems to be tangled in a strategy that leaves much-loved clubs too often reliant on dodgy cash, absentee owners and the whims of foreign politicians – an own goal which, in the long run, could prove costly for the game.