Spurs fans may have no choice over Qatar money but they do have a voice

Date published: Wednesday 11th January 2023 9:37 - Ian King

The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, home of Spurs

Talk of Qatari investment to Spurs reopens a familiar conversation about sportswashing, but what can fans do when they’ll get no say in the final decision?


As a football supporter, nothing quite makes you feel as powerless as when talk begins over new ownership for your club. In other areas of running a club, the fans are heard. Or at least the club pretend they are.

When managers are sacked it often follows sustained complaints about that manager’s performance. Clubs love to give the impression that ‘we’re listening’, but that’s easy to say when we’re talking about this relatively disposable position. When talk starts to circulate concerning the actual ownership of a club, well, that’s far too important (and lucrative) for mere fans to have a say.

So the grim truth is that, just as happened with Manchester City, Newcastle United, Chelsea and the other clubs who’ve found themselves at the centre of conversation regarding sportswashing in the 21st century, Spurs supporters will have little to no say over whether Qatar buys a share in their club. But does that mean, as the talk continues to swirl in the air, that they should embrace the idea of joining this particular club as enthusiastically as has happened elsewhere?

It’s not difficult to see why Spurs should be appealing to potential buyers or investors. The foundations are in place. The club has just completed construction of one of Europe’s most modern and well-appointed new stadia, and while this has put the club into debt this seems to be manageable and accounted for, with the club’s finances prior to the stadium construction in very good shape, with naming rights for The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium still not agreed. The club’s training facility in nearby Enfield has also been significantly upgraded in the last decade while, in a broader sense, the Premier League is still considered ‘undervalued’ by some potential investors.

On top of this, a London location is always likely to appeal to foreign investors, while the expectations of the fanbase have been significantly tempered by decades of not having won very much. And while jokes about ‘Spursiness’ will also abound, as they always do, it’s worth remembering that identities can wax and wane over time, and that no club was more Spursy than pre-Abu Dhabi Manchester City.

Current UEFA rules preclude Nasser al-Khelaifi, the chairman of Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) and president of Paris Saint-Germain, from owning more than one club taking part in the same competition, so it remains unlikely that the Qataris would be able to buy Spurs lock, stock and barrel, although cynics might add that there may be sufficient holes in the club ownership rules for this to be circumvented.

Some might even claim that al-Khelaifi’s seniority within UEFA might even allow for rules to be changed over this in the fullness of time, though it should be added that there is nothing to suggest that this is on the table right now.

All of this comes against the background of growing anger at the current owners of the club as the feeling grows that yet another season is  about to pass the team by. ‘ENIC Out’ protests have been a fixture and fitting at Spurs for some considerable time now, and there will be a not-insubstantial number of Spurs supporters who will welcome any opportunity to reduce their influence within the club as well as those who don’t care for anything like the ‘politics’ of all this and whose interest in the whole subject amounts to nothing more than wanting to see hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of new players arrive.

The best bet for a unified voice representing the Spurs support comes in the form of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust. They wrote an open letter to the club over concerns regarding the direction that the club is taking just last week, but this was before news of the Qatari interest broke. An update posted five days later confirmed that the club has undertaken to provide a reply to the questions raised by the Trust ‘in the coming weeks’, but if talks are underway to sell a chunk of the club to a fabulously wealthy Qatari, how much else might have changed by the time they actually get around to doing so?

But why, as Simon Jordan has been asking, would QSI be interested in buying a minority share in a club in the first place? The obvious answer is that under the current rules they have no choice, if they want any involvement in the Premier League at all. QSI have been reported as being interested in making a move now because the pound is weak in the currency market and because they consider the Qatar World Cup to have been a success. But then again, both Liverpool and Manchester United are both up for sale too.

All of this puts Spurs supporters in a position that will already be familiar to the supporters of several other clubs. They will presumably be expected to shut up and enjoy the spectacle, just as was the case at Manchester City, just as was the case with Newcastle, and just as was the case with the Qatar World Cup. But that, perhaps, is where the matter of choice comes in. No-one in their right mind ever expected Manchester City or Newcastle United supporters to just completely sever their emotional bond with the club when the sportswashers moved in.

There is, of course, something fundamentally grotesque ab0ut the fact that supporters are put in the position of having to make this sort of decision. Nobody reading this needs any reminding of how important football clubs are to their supporters, and that loyalty has been tested by clubs seeking to exploit it for almost as long as the game has been played.

But here we all are, yet again, and even if we set the matter of human rights/migrant workers rights/however you wish to frame all of that to one side for a moment, there remain other questions. In the event that such an investment was to take place, would there be a clear undertaking that Spurs will not be treated as, say, a feeder club to PSG? How is the identity of the potential buyers to be squared with the fact that a substantial part of the club’s support has long been drawn from the London Jewish community?

Spurs fans might not get a say in where this all ends up, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t have a right to volubly express their opinion in the meantime. The club isn’t in ‘crisis’; there is no existential threat to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. This is fundamentally a question of what fans want Spurs to be, what we all want Premier League football to be, and how the club should react to the growing inequalities that have grown in the game as a result of vast amounts of money being put into a tiny number of clubs.

We won’t get a choice, but we do have a voice. We should use it wisely.

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