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What is sportswashing simply explained?

Sportswashing - What does it mean?

What is sportswashing, anyway? If you're looking for a clear answer to this question, you've come to the right place. Sport helps us to reduce stress, stay healthy and fit and be happy. It is fun and is able to inspire millions of people. Whether it's soccer, basketball, handball, motorsport, ski jumping, athletics or American football - major sporting events in particular have an incredible appeal that doesn't stop at national borders. It is precisely this characteristic that corrupt or authoritarian regimes in particular use to polish up their image.

In this article, I would like to give you everything you need to know about sportswashing. From the definition, motives and examples to possible solutions. Let's go!

  1. Definition
  2. Background
  3. Examples
  4. Solutions
  5. Closing words

Definition: What is Sportswashing?

Countries or companies that engage in sportswashing try to enhance one's own reputation with the help of the positive image of a popular sport. The aim is to ensure that the approval, attention and not least the enthusiasm for a sporting event is transferred to the organizers.₁

The now firmly established term is a combination of the self-explanatory word "sport" and "whitewashing", which means something like Whitewashing means. Similar to the Greenwashing (attempt to achieve a "green image" through marketing and PR measures) is an attempt to make a bad thing look as good as possible.

Background: What goals are sporting events exploited for politically?

Women enjoy few rights in Qatar

It is primarily autocratic states, such as Russia and China - and also the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia and Qatar - that engage in sportswashing. The latter are particularly rich, not least because of their huge gas and oil reserves, which makes them particularly powerful and influential. In Islamic, authoritarian regimes, however, other rights prevail that are far removed from the basic democratic values that we exemplify in the western world. For example Religious freedom, gay rights or women's rights trampled underfoot. They are either limited or simply non-existent.

We would therefore like to inform the euphemistic, friendly and cosmopolitan veil of a bought-in sporting event and improve their reputation in the world in this way, while doing nothing to change the inhumane abuses.

Examples: Who does sportswashing - and how?

You organize a big sporting event and people forget about all the grievances in your country or organization. Does it really work that easily? In fact, there is something more to it, especially system! The longer they are involved in a sport and make a name for themselves, the more dependent the respective sport is on them - and the higher the social acceptance despite human rights violations.

Here are a few of countless examples that show in more detail how countries use sporting events to give themselves a clean image.

Purchase of a sports club

  • Manchester City: The world-famous club is largely owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group Investment & Development Limited, as well as the China Media Capital Football Holdings Limited. Played in the Etihad Stadium, named after the national airline of the United Arab Emirates.
  • Paris St. Germain: The French series champion is owned by the company Qatar Sports Investments around President Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who now enjoys great influence in world soccer. The airline Qatar Airways also adorns the club's jerseys. Players such as Kilian Mbappé and Neymar were signed for around 400 million euros.
  • Newcastle United: A company set up by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund led consortium acquired the rights to the long-established soccer club Newcastle United in October 2021.

Sponsorship of a sports team

  • FC Bayern Munich: Since July 2018, the Qatar Airways logo has adorned FC Bayern's jersey sleeves and bench replacements, for example. But public pressure is growing. Not least because many club members despise the human rights situation in Qatar and are urging the club to take action.
  • Paris St. Germain: The French club is not only Qatari owned, but is also supported by Qatar Airways sponsored.
  • FC Barcelona: The airline also adorned the jerseys of FC Barcelona players.
  • Formula 1: The Saudi Arabian oil company Aramco is one of the main sponsors of the international Formula 1 racing series and also the main sponsor of the Aston Martin team.

Sponsorship of sports events

  • Summer Olympics 1936 in Germany: When Nazi Germany hosted the event in 1936, the organizers saw it as an encouragement for the Aryan race.₂
  • 2008 Summer Olympics in China: At the event, the Chinese government placed more emphasis on its superficial image than on fundamental change. The persecution and punishment of human rights defenders and media professionals continued during the Games.₃
  • Soccer World Cup 2018 in Russia: The World Cup in Russia was criticized above all for the miserable working conditions of the workers, as well as allegations of doping and other scandals.
  • World Athletics Championships 2019: The sporting event took place under extreme climatic conditions in Qatar. Due to the enormous heat, many athletes had to seek medical treatment.
  • Spanish and Italian Supercup 2020: The two matches between last year's champion and last year's cup winner from the Spanish, as well as from the Italian league, both took place in Saudi Arabia.
  • Soccer World Cup 2022 in Qatar: The World Cup in Qatar was bought - the desert state was awarded the contract in 2010. At least 6,500 people lost their lives during the construction of the stadiums.

Solutions: What can be done against sportswashing?

What to do about sportswashing?

The solution can only lie in threatening, social acceptance to continue to criticize sportswashing. It is important not to conceal the whitewashing attempts at image polishing.

Measures against corruption for example, are a suitable political tool. Consumers, on the other hand, can be Boycott can stand up for the fact that they do not accept human rights violations and other social abuses. Personally, I will take these and a few other Reasons not to watch a match of the World Cup in Qatar.

Can you think of any other ways to do something about sportswashing? Then I look forward to your comment!

Sportswashing - Targeted image campaigns with consequences

Personally, I think the motives of the countries in question are simply far too obvious for me to be happy about a goal scored by the German national team at the World Cup in Qatar, for example. Inhumane working conditions, exploitation, thousands of deaths during the construction of the stadiums, hatred towards homosexuals, oppression of women... all these abuses would be accepted by turning a blind eye and cheering.

I very much hope that you were able to take something away from this article about sportswashing. Do you have any questions, tips or do you know of any other instructive examples? Then just write me a comment below this article.

Stay critical,

Christoph from CareElite - Plastic-free living

PS: Do you actually know what Conspiracy theories are and how they work? I explain it to you in the linked article.

₁ Benjamin Knaack: Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia Wash cycle in the desert (as at: 05.01.2020), available at [11.11.2022].

₂ M. Rosenberg: Sportswashing - Why regimes exploit sport for their dirty purposes (as of: 12.04.2022), available at [11.11.2022].

₃ Beijing 2008 - Human rights organizations take stock, available at [11.11.2022].

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Christoph Schulz

Christoph Schulz

I'm Christoph, an environmental scientist and author - and here at CareElite I'm campaigning against plastic waste in the environment, climate change and all the other major environmental problems of our time. Together with other environmentally conscious bloggers, I want to give you tips & tricks for a naturally healthy, sustainable life as well as your personal development.

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