Seeing only beauty in the things we love, adoring football fans unite in tribal support of their teams, behind the benevolence of owners who engineer big-money player purchases, and grateful for corporations who pump in bulging sponsorship funds. But scratching beneath the game’s glossy veneer reveals the Machiavellian flipside of human nature, manifesting in abuses which turn into self-parody phrases like Fifa’s "football family" and Uefa’s "financial fair play". Football’s foundations are now reinforced with politics, power and money.  Sportswashing is a neologism for reputational laundering through sport. Even unconscionable, awful affairs: Amnesty International describes it as "glossing a human rights record, to wash a little blood away".

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) imposes the death penalty for adultery, tortures political prisoners and engages its military in Yemen’s civil war, estimated to have caused 100,000 civilian deaths and threatening starvation for millions. Y...

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