Jon Blair on why he strongly opposes Arsenal's links with Rwanda

Jon Blair on his disgust at Rwanda's Arsenal sponsorship as UK government gears up to give asylum seekers one-way ticket

Jon Blair on why he strongly opposes Arsenal's links with Rwanda

So, what did you think when Priti Patel announced that asylum seekers would be given a one way ticket to Rwanda shining a whole new light on Arsenal’s “Visit Rwanda” sponsorship?

Did you feel anything at all, or just shrug it off as the sort of things politicians do and then get on with your life?

I know what I felt: total, abject shame. Shame for this my country that gave me shelter many years ago when I fled army conscription by a brutal, racist regime.

But also shame that the football club I love and support is tied to this inhumane policy through the blood money it receives from Rwanda’s dictator, Paul Kagame.

So what do you think when you see “Visit Rwanda” on the sleeves of our team as they emerge from the tunnel, or on banners round the stadium for home games, or on the replica shirt you bought to show your support for Arsenal?

Before Ms Patel’s recent bombshell I would pretend to myself that maybe, just maybe, it could be a valid bit of advertising to get visitors to go cuddle gorillas or whatever it is  they do when they get to Rwanda.

Maybe, just maybe it made some sort of financial sense to this poorest of poor countries to be paying huge sums of money to our multi millionaire owner if someone had done the sums and could show that it actually produced a worthwhile return on investment with additional tourist revenue.

In my heart of hearts I knew this was bull: just how many gorilla cuddlers watching a game would say to themselves, “Ooh yes, that’s a good idea. The team may be playing absolute rubbish but let’s book a trip to sunny Kigali and the rain forests of Rwanda as soon as the game is over.”

The fact that it is costing one of the 20 poorest countries on earth £10 million a year to have its name on our shirt sleeves might just be justifiable if enough rich gorilla cuddlers were being persuaded to part with cash they might have spent elsewhere - and Rwanda says it earns over £126 million a year from tourism – but no one has produced a single convincing bit of research that points to Gooners going gorilla crazy in significant numbers and booking that safari after seeing “Visit Rwanda” on the kit.

But once Rwanda became inexorably tied to a policy that has united as disparate critics as the Archbishop of Canterbury, former PM Theresa May, senior Tories like Andrew Mitchell and David Davis, and even top Home Office mandarins, leaving aside the usual suspects you would expect to shout loudly about it like the leaders of all the opposition parties, all of whom are saying that sending asylum seekers  more than 4,000 miles to a malaria infested, poverty ridden country is not only inhumane but impractical and expensive, and bound to fail, that “Visit Rwanda” logo has taken on a whole new set of baggage.

Then you find out that the Israelis tried to do it a year or two back, and far from “destroying the business model of the traffickers” as the government here now claims, almost every one of the asylum seekers that were deported to Rwanda had fled within months, going straight into the hands of the very same traffickers to get them back to Europe for another try.

Put aside the inane and anodyne justifications produced by Ms Patel, Mr Johnson and their apologists, and look at the reality.

In Rwanda about 38% of the population is living below the poverty line, a quarter of young men and women between the ages of 16 and 30 are unemployed, and 17% of all working age males are without jobs. So, catapult a bunch of male asylum seekers who don’t speak the language, have no cultural links or affinity to the country, know no-one and have no assets, and what are you hoping for?

That is the reality of this plan and  to say this is cruel and inhumane is an under-statement of monumental proportions, and to know that our North London football club is associated by implication with this travesty is heart-breaking.

And that’s not the end of it. According to the highly regarded independent research of Human Rights Watch, Rwanda has “an appalling human rights record.” In 2018 Rwanda security forces shot dead 12 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo when they protested a cut in food rations and then arrested and prosecuted another 60 of them.

As Human Rights Watch says: “Rwanda has a known track record of extrajudicial killings, suspicious deaths in custody, unlawful or arbitrary detention, torture, and abusive prosecutions, particularly targeting critics and dissidents.”

And then this: “In fact, the UK directly raised its concerns about respect for human rights with Rwanda, and grants asylum to Rwandans who have fled the country, including four just last year.”

The blazers will be saying we mustn’t mix sport with politics, a deal is a deal, and who Arsenal takes money from doesn’t matter,  but that ship sailed years ago.

Rwanda’s sponsorship of our sleeves is sport-washing at its most obvious.  

By taking Rwanda’s money the club has sullied itself and the blazers are the ones mixing politics with football.

Now, if our club has a modicum of dignity, a smattering of concern for what’s right and what’s wrong, it is time to rip up the contract with Mr Kagame’s goons and disassociate the club and its loyal supporters from Mr Johnson’s and Ms Patel’s deplorable travesty of a policy.

Jon Blair has been going to Arsenal since 1971 when he moved to Islington. He has been a season ticket holder since 1987, and was a shareholder until Stan Kroenke bought the entire club. He is an Oscar, BAFTA, and Emmy winning documentary maker and was originally a political refugee from apartheid era South Africa.

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  1. shu

    May 22, 2022, 16:27 #117290

    This is not a place for political views , so you came to this country and called yourself Blair , really ?? As a immigrant who are you to say who should or should not be allowed in our country ? Maybe stick to Twitter .