What is sportswashing?

It has not been a great month for Manchester City, off the pitch at least. Leaked emails published by German magazine Der Spiegel highlighted their role in deceiving UEFA over Financial Fair Play (FFP), through disguised sponsorships and hidden contracts. Amnesty International turned up the heat on the club’s Abu Dhabi owners, and accused City Football Group of “sportswashing”.

In 2018, the word “sportswashing” has grown in popularity. A simple definition would be it refers to powers, typically states using sporting events/franchises as a means to launder their reputation and/or poor human rights track record. A bit more on its origin via the OxfordWords Blog:

Sportwashing gets credited to the Sport for Rights campaign, a 2015 Azerbaijani effort to call out a country’s attempt ‘to distract from its human rights record with prestigious sponsorship and hosting of events’, including the European Games hosted in Baku that year. (In an October 2012 post on the blog War Is Crime, we should note, a Dr Marcus Driver did use sportwashing but for the supposed brainwashing of American culture with sport.)

The word might be on the rise, but the practice of using sport as a political tool goes back decades: think as far back as the 1934 World Cup or 1936 Olympic Games. But could we extend the definition to big gambling or fast food companies profiting from league, shirt or stadium sponsorships? Surely this is a form of “sportswashing”, given their respective reputations.