I see Saudi Arabia has taken financial control of Newcastle United Football Club. The sale was conditional on Prince Salman providing the Premiere League with an assurance his government would not interfere in the football club’s management and would allow BeIn Sport, to resume television broadcasts of football in Saudi Arabia.

The question is can Newcastle United believe these promises? Some readers may be asking, “What on earth does a swimming coach in New Zealand know about Saudi sport?” It is certainly a valid question. And I confess I am not an expert. However, in 2016 I did spend 12 months in Saudi Arabia coaching swimming for the Saudi National Swimming Federation. I guess that counts as some knowledge of how sport in the Kingdom works.

Based on that experience I don’t think for one minute the Saudi government will stay away from interfering in the management of the Newcastle club. It is not the way Salman and his family work. Telling people what to do and how to behave is their second nature. Every sport, including swimming, is incredibly centralised. The royal family fund everything and expect decision making powers to match their investment. Every decision requires a stamp of approval from the royal palace. Why would Newcastle be any different?

Entering a swim meet, changing the weekly training, swim camps, meetings, club social events and anything involving foreign travel all required approval from the Federation Head Office in Riyadh. The problem is, those in charge might be good at Royal Family stuff but they know nothing about how to swim the length of a swimming pool. I doubt those Royals responsible for the Newcastle football purchase have any more knowledge of how that game is played. The mix of ignorance and power seldom works.

It certainly has never worked in Saudi Arabia. Take their Olympic results for example. The country is ranked 119th with no Gold medals, no Silver medals and 2 Bronze medals. This compares with a small county like New Zealand, ranked 27th with 53 Gold medals, 34 Silver medals and 53 Bronze medals. In total Saudi Arabia has 2 medals compared to New Zealand’s 140.

The difference is huge. Why is that you may wonder? Well, in my view, it’s all about that concept called the centralised control of sport. For 25 years New Zealand swimming proved it doesn’t work. In every sport Saudi Arabia continues to prove it doesn’t work.

Make no mistake I am not an out-and-out capitalist. I voted for Jacinda twice and will do so again next year. In many aspects of our daily lives a left-wing government provides the best solution. Education, health, military, social welfare, infrastructure and laws are all best handled from the left of centre. However elite competitive sport is not.

Walker and Jelley, Snell and Lydiard, Dixon and Dixon were not government funded or controlled. In political jargon they were as right-wing sporting capitalists as you can get. And yet that small list alone won more than twice the number of Olympic medals than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Those 6 guys knew how to win a running race. The Saudi Royal family do not. My guess is they don’t know how to play football either. But, as I found during my year in the Kingdom, they won’t be able to keep their sticky fingers off the management of the club. It will be a disaster.

One thing the Saudi family will do well. The money they spend on facilities will shock us all. In swimming. Some Royal princes wandered off to Germany to see the pool built for the Munich Olympic Games.

“To swim well at the Games, we need a pool like that,” they said. And so, they bought and built three exact copies. One in the west, one in the east and one in the centre of the country. Right down to the 45 stainless steel flag poles outside, meeting rooms, kitchens, and many female toilets. What the Germans did in Munich was copied three times in Saudi. The ultimate irony was women were not allowed into the pools. All Saudi swimming training and competition was strictly male only. All those female toilets and no women.

The underlying belief is that spending enough money can buy success. Sure, money can help but without the Walker and Jelley, Snell and Lydiard, Dixon and Dixon expertise and independence, money alone will not work. I suspect the Newcastle Club might just end up with the best football facilities in Britain, and no one to pee in them.

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