The year is 2012, perhaps the greatest Premier League season of all time has just concluded: Sergio Aguero has scored the winning goal against QPR to bring Manchester City their first Premier League title. Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea have done the unthinkable and have beaten Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena to win the Champions League. Newcastle United have secured European football for the first time in over half a decade. It was a wonderful season for the English game.
In that Newcastle United squad stood some cult heroes of the North East: Yohan Cabaye, Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini and Papiss Cisse will all go down in Toon folklore for their heroics that year.
Another name who should be championed, and perhaps regarded even higher, is Demba Ba. With 29 league goals in 54 appearances for the Magpies, Ba may lay claim to being the last top quality striker Newcastle United have had in the Premier League. Outside of Newcastle, Ba scored an iconic goal at Anfield after THAT slip by Steven Gerrard, before making moves to China and Turkey after he departed England in 2014.
Ba has been making the headlines in the last few hours with a political statement which will no doubt be supported in public, but will likely not be endorsed at all or even mentioned once the week is over.
“When are we going to see the rest of the world stand up for Muslims?” Ba’s words are simple, justified, and appealing. They may cause quite a political stir however…
Now modern football is a messy, sometimes violent game: there’s no doubt about it. But politics and international relations is even messier and sometimes even more violent.
China’s relationships with foreign powers like the UK or US warrants entire books and journals to properly provide an in-depth explanation. But the general idea is that China’s influence reaches further than Central Asia, it’s global. To oppose China can have disastrous financial consequences, which is of course not in the best interest of modern football.
In football, you merely have to look at the wages of some players in the Chinese Super League to know that the country has money to burn; in 2018 alone the likes of Oscar and Hulk were on over €300,000 a week. It’s through this money that the Premier League maintains such a close friendly relationship with the superpower.
International viewing rights generate a lot of revenue not only for the clubs, but the League itself. The better the Premier League’s (and UK’s in general) relationship is with the asian nation, the more likely it is for broadcast partners in China to continue buying streaming rights, Chinese investors to make strides into club ownership, and added numbers of pre-season tours for Premier League clubs take place there. Everyone wins, right?
So how does Demba Ba, a Senegalese striker currently plying his trade in Turkey, factor into all of this?
As previously mentioned, this morning Ba made comments condemning the Chinese government for their mistreatment of the Uighur people: a Muslim community and minority ethnic group in China. For some time now, footage has emerged of imprisoned Uighurs blindfolded and chained up in concentration camps. The persecution has devolved into a genocide with claims of mass sterilisation and murder by China against the Uighur people.
Ba, himself a Muslim with experience playing for Shanghai Shenhua, believes that unity amongst footballers and footballing bodies can be a leading force for change “I have to try and organise something so football players can get together and, in the meantime, talk about this matter because not a lot of people want to.”
The influence of footballers cannot be denied: just look at Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United forward who successfully campaigned for the UK government to u-turn on their controversial policies about free school meals. Here, footballers, politicians, and the mainstream media united for positive change. One would presume that similar unity is enough to bring attention to the China situation.
The sad reality there is that, for as long as the Premier League (the biggest footballing league on the planet) enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with China and its government, there will be no permitted protests or good PR campaigns like we saw during the restart and the support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
To stand by China whilst it commits crimes against humanity and revolting atrocities at this very moment is disgusting. Football as a sport should unite, just like they did for Rashford, under the words of Ba to make a positive difference. To avoid doing such shows exactly where much of modern football lies in the money vs morals debate.
Yet the wrong side is winning.