Newcastle's Muslim stars told not to wear Wonga shirt
New sponsorship deal with 'legal loan sharks' causes controversy at St James’ Park
NEWCASTLE's controversial sponsorship deal with short-term loan company Wonga is fast turning into a PR disaster on a scale that not even the Magpies’ owner, Mike Ashley, is used to.
The tie-up, worth £24m over four years, has drawn fierce criticism from fans and anti-debt campaigners. MPs have joined the fray, describing the 'payday loans' company as a "legal loan shark", and now Newcastle's Muslim players have been warned that wearing a Wonga-sponsored shirt would be contrary to their faith.
The club fielded four Muslim players against Manchester United at the weekend - Demba Ba (above), Papiss Cisse, Cheick Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa - and they are crucial to the club's fortunes. The Muslim Council of Britain has now declared that the club's new shirts, to be worn from next season, will infringe Sharia law.
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary general of the MCB, told Eurosport: "We have the rulings of the religious law and we have the individual's choice and decision on how they want to follow or not follow that rule. The idea is to protect the vulnerable and the needy from exploitation by the rich and powerful.
"The Islamic system is based on a non-interest-based system of transaction."
It is not just Muslims who are worried about Newcastle’s new sponsors, who offer short-term loans of up to £1,000 for a maximum of a month, at an interest rate that equates to 4,214 per cent APR.
Local MP Ian Lavery told Goal.com: "I'm very, very disappointed, annoyed and ashamed that a club with such rich heritage and traditions as Newcastle United have allowed themselves to be tied to a sponsorship deal with a company like Wonga."
Even the news that the club's stadium would once again be known as St James' Park, after owner Ashley rebranded it the Sports Direct Arena, failed to quell the anger. Lavery dismissed the move as "a poor attempt at a PR stunt".
The Guardian quotes Michael Martin, editor of the True Faith fanzine, saying the deal is "shameful" and adding: "I really don't understand what the club is about any more." Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle City Council, said he was "appalled and sickened".
Thom Gibbs writes in The Daily Telegraph: "Newcastle United pursuing a sponsor which so blatantly profits from the misery of not having enough money tells you plenty about the current state of football, and the ownership of Mike Ashley.”
Simon Bird laments in the Daily Mirror: "Newcastle is run by business men, and they were always going to go for cash over social responsibility. This time they got it wrong. Newcastle is a city with above average unemployment, lower than average wages and a high proportion of people struggling to make ends meet. Easy pickings, I'm sure Wonga reckon, for their brand of payday loans."
However, Luke Edwards of the The Daily Telegraph sees nothing wrong with the deal. Wonga already sponsors Scottish club Hearts and Championship side Blackpool, he points out.
"There is not a football ground in the country which does not promote some sort of gambling website or bookmakers. This is football as a business, not football as a sport. It is about revenue streams and balance sheets. It is cold, it is hard and it is ruthless. It isn’t guided by a moral compass."