‘Sportswashing’: You Pays Your Money and You Takes Your Choice

The greatest and most popular football league in the world (arguably) turns 30 this week. In the space of a few decades, the English Premier League has blossomed into a global marketing powerhouse with all the theatrics and drama any sports spectator could dream of – from transfer deadline day to emotional local derby duels. But along with its success story, there exists a growing threat to its reputation. The Premiership is susceptible to accusations of a practice known as ‘sportswashing’ whereby club ownership is said to be used to clean up a tainted public image. 

The Premier League kick-started the celebrity era of football with the likes of David Beckham. When the dainty-voiced, floppy-fringed fella scored from the halfway line against Wimbledon for Manchester United in 1996, he lit the fuse for an explosion of his fame and the 21-year-old soon became a global superstar. His relationship with “Posh Spice” only served to augment his popularity credentials. 

This interweaving of football with mainstream culture has grown with icons such as Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, whose personal lives have increasingly taken centre stage.  Around-the-clock TV coverage and the emergence of the internet and social media has increased demand for every little morsel of the private lives of these very rich and famous athletes. Noticeably, this interest is no longer confined to the players. 

Since Abramovich took over Chelsea FC in the early noughties and in a similar vein the owners of Manchester City, Sheikh Mansour, and Newcastle United, Saudi Arabian-led Public Investor Fund (PIF), each have been accused of using the English game to not only advance their own net worth through marketing opportunities but also to enhance their public images. 

Football’s ability to cement a relationship between owners and fans is surprisingly powerful. When Roman Abramovich’s assets were seized and he was reported to have been chased out of the country for his alleged connections to Vladimir Putin following the unlawful Russian invasion of Ukraine, not all of the supporters of his club Chelsea F.C. were so keen to push him out of the door – due to the success his resources had enabled. Fans continued to chant the now former owner’s name in the stands well after the war had unfolded. It’s fascinating how a game of sport can warm the hearts of those unlikely to hold similar sentiments for others on the Russian sanctions list.

Buying a football club can be seen as a chance to revolutionise not just your own public image, but even that of your country. After purchasing the blue side of Manchester, Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi has enabled City to accumulate title after title. The investment from the oil-rich Sheikh is undoubtedly part of a wider plan to present the Abu Dhabi state in a positive light in the West.  In fact, since 2014, the ruling family has invested outside the club’s doors and tapped into the wider Mancunian area through the Manchester Life project. A joint partnership between the Abu Dhabi United Group and Manchester City Council, it has a £1 billion goal to transform 200 acres surrounding the Etihad Stadium from a derelict wasteland into a hub of modern real estate. 

Other resultant developments include the regeneration of an 80-acre brownfield site into the City’s state-of-the-art training facility. The club has also donated 5.5 acres of land and at least £12 million towards Beswick Leisure Centre, the sixth form Connell college and the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance. Furthermore, the club’s ‘City in the Community’ programme has invested thousands of hours of work into noble causes such as disability football teams and mental health support for the younger generation. 

Whilst cynics might question the motives of these actions, the benefits to the recipients are undeniable. The Emirati State’s human rights record is well-documented but its largesse in Manchester seemingly allows many to turn a blind eye. 

Wider public disapproval (ie from those not directly benefitting) of alleged ‘sportswashing’ seems to provide little of an actual roadblock to investment. Newcastle United is the latest high-profile English Premier League club to be bought out by an overseas investor with a controversial history. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund invested in the takeover at St. James’ Park on October 7th 2021 costing a reported £415 million. 

At the time, Amnesty International was very critical of the move with its UK’s chief executive officer Sacha Deshmukh saying: “The Saudi buy-out of Newcastle exposed the glaring inadequacies of English football’s ownership rules – with no bar for those complicit in acts of torture, slavery, human trafficking or even war crimes – yet it hasn’t led to the change we urgently need to see.” 

Deshmukh continued: “When Saudi Arabia swooped in and bought Newcastle, it was one of the most glaring examples of modern sportswashing the world has ever seen. “With Mohammed bin Salman now effectively Newcastle’s owner, the Saudi state will see the club as another means to try to shape Saudi Arabia’s international image and distract from the country’s appalling human rights record.

“The Saudi authorities clearly see Newcastle as a long-term sportswashing project, but for now we’re seeing Eddie Howe and sections of the fanbase dodging questions about Saudi human rights abuses – neither of which is healthy for football.” 

One wonders whether those responsible for English club ownership rules will decide to introduce more strident checks and balances to prevent such future allegations of ‘sportswashing’ being levelled.  Or perhaps, to better protect ‘the beautiful game’, the introduction of majority fan-ownership such as that deployed in Germany will instead take root as the preferred future investment model. 

Conclusion:

The expansion of the Premier League in the most popular sport on the planet suggests it will only continue to attract those looking for a public relations revamp. The question is whether the sport chooses domestic social benefits over its international ESG responsibilities. 

While more stringent regulation could be implemented to prevent allegations of ‘sportswashing’, revelations of FIFA corruption show that a root-and-branch clean-up of football management is unlikely. Women’s tennis is one major international sport that has begun to put the defence of human rights before play. Unfortunately in football, just as we’re now seeing in golf, money still rules.

18th August 2022

Declan Flahive

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Tulip Trading given leave to appeal Bitcoin recovery jurisdiction judgement

Rt. Hon. Lady Justice Andrews DBE has granted permission for ONTIER LLP client, Tulip Trading Ltd, to appeal the judgment handed down by Mrs Justice Falk of 25 March 2022 denying jurisdiction over a claim for breach of fiduciary and tortious duties. Tulip Trading Ltd, a Seychelles registered company, whose primary beneficial owner is Dr Craig Wright, is seeking to bring proceedings in the English High Court against 16 bitcoin developer defendants, 13 of whom had challenged jurisdiction leading to Mrs Justice Falk’s judgment upholding their challenge.

However Lady Justice Andrews in granting the appeal recognised the importance of the issues in the claim, saying:

“The issue as to whether Developers owe duties of care and/or fiduciary duties to the owners of digital assets and if so, what is the nature and scope of those duties is one of considerable importance and is rightly characterised as a matter of some complexity and difficulty.  Given that in addition to its complexity and difficulty the underlying facts will play a significant role in determining that issue, it is arguable with a real prospect of success that it is not susceptible of summary determination in the context of a challenge to the jurisdiction, and therefore that the Judge fell into error in deciding that there was not even a serious issue to be tried and in the approach she adopted.”

Oliver Cain, Partner at ONTIER LLP comments:

“We are grateful that Lady Justice Andrews recognised the wider importance of establishing in law the responsibilities of developers of digital assets to end users. The complex and fact-heavy considerations, that characterise developers’ duties to those who have lost access to their Bitcoin, deserve to be explored and determined at full trial and not to be dismissed through a jurisdiction challenge.

“Individual owners of digital currencies will be grateful that leave to appeal has been granted as the outcome will set the precedent for others to follow, should they lose access to their private wallets.  We look forward to successfully presenting our case in full in due course.” 

ONTIER (on behalf of Tulip Trading Ltd) seeks to recover £3+ billion worth of Bitcoin 

Claim has significant implications for other users and the way Bitcoin operates

The defendants in this unprecedented action are the developers of BTC, BCH, BCH and ABC residing in various jurisdictions across the world including: Netherlands, Switzerland, Kitts and Nevis, France, Japan, numerous different states in the USA, New Zealand and Australia.

ONTIER was originally granted permission to serve all the developers out of the jurisdiction by the Business and Property Courts of the High Court in London, following a 173 page application submission detailing the claim.

Following the jurisdiction hearing, the Bitcoin Association, developers of BSV, has entered into a settlement agreement with Tulip Trading Ltd.

ENDS

In the Court of Appeal: Lady Justice Andrews DBE.

Legal Advisors:   Dr Wright was represented by Derek StinsonOliver CainFelicity Potter and Nicolas Dawson of ONTIER LLP.

For further information please contact:

Bell Yard Communications                        +44 (0)20 7936 2021  BellYard@bell-yard.com

Melanie Riley                                               +44 (0)7775 591244   melanie@bell-yard.com

Notes to Editors:

Dr Wright is the inventor of Bitcoin who set out his vision for the digital currency in his famous White Paper under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. 

The litigation seeks to examine, for the first time, the nature and extent of legal duties conferred upon and owed by developers resulting from the control they exercise over their respective blockchains.

As detailed in the Particulars of Claim, TTL requested that the individual developers enable TTL to regain access to and control of its Bitcoin on the grounds that they, the developers, owe Bitcoin owners both tortious and fiduciary duties under English law as a result of the high level of power and control they hold over their respective blockchains.

In February 2020, Dr Wright’s personal computer was hacked by persons unknown and encrypted private keys to two addresses, which hold substantial quantities of Bitcoin belonging to TTL, were stolen. These assets were, and continue to be, owned by TTL. 

Other litigation involving Dr Craig Wright

There is a series of successful or pending legal claims issued by lawyers across jurisdictions on behalf of Dr Wright and his associated entities, to uphold his right to protect his lawfully-held digital assets, his reputation as the creator of Bitcoin and his associated intellectual property:

·         Earlier this year, Dr Wright’s UK lawyers, ONTIER LLP, on behalf of Dr Wright defeated a strike-out attempt by Magnus Granath, following Dr Wright’s English defamation proceedings against Granath.  This trial will heard by the High Court in late 2023. 

·         On 12 September 2022, the District Court of Oslo will hear Granath’s application for a Negative Declaration to determine that his campaign of disparagement of Dr Wright through social media is not defamatory. This is challenged by Dr Wright, who will give evidence in person in Norway during this trial.

·         Earlier this month, influential digital currency podcaster, Peter McCormack, was found by the English High Court to have defamed Dr Wright in 14 tweets and 1 YouTube video, in which McCormack decried Dr Wright’s assertion that he invented Bitcoin.  This judicial ruling came not long after McCormack withdrew his reliance on a defence of truth to his publications.  Aspects of this judgment are under consideration by Dr Wright and his lawyers with a view to launching an appeal.

·         In 2021 Dr Wright successfully brought a copyright claim against the anonymous digital currency enthusiast operating under the pseudonym “Cøbra”. Enforcement of this judgment is ongoing.

·         ONTIER LLP and Harcus Parker LLP are advising companies owned by Dr Wright in their passing off claims against exchanges Kraken and Coinbase, filed in the High Court earlier this month.

·         Dr Wright is also advised by ONTIER on his defence and counter-claim to the Crypto Open Patent Alliance’s (COPA) challenge to Dr Wright’s authorship of the White Paper, which also will likely be heard in 2024.

·         In December 2021 Dr Wright successfully defended a claim brought in US by Ira Kleiman, brother of Wright’s late friend Dave Kleiman, who predicated the claim on the fact that Dr Wright is Nakamoto, but that Wright created Bitcoin with the help of Dave Kleiman.  The jury rejected that allegation.

About ONTIER

ONTIER has an established and growing practice for recovering stolen and hacked Bitcoin. Its partners, Oliver CainDerek StinsonFelicity Potter and Nicholas Dawson (Associate), are advising TTL and instructed John Wardell QCBobby Friedman and Sri Carmichael of Wilberforce Chambers as Counsel on this matter.

This litigation is the latest in a series of legal claims issued by ONTIER LLP on behalf of Dr Wright and his associated entities to uphold his right to protect not only his lawfully-held digital assets, but also his reputation as the creator of Bitcoin and his associated intellectual property.

The firm is well known for its high-profile Bitcoin related litigation and has a highly regarded dispute resolution team. Its work is almost exclusively international and multi-jurisdictional in nature, focused on complex, high value international litigation, insolvency matters and arbitration in a wide range of financial and industry sectors. 

The firm acted in successful English High Court proceedings against Reliantco Investments Ltd, a digital asset and securities exchange, which blocked and seized a substantial amount from a client’s trading account. ONTIER LLP was able to recover the client’s full investment, its unrealised gains and loss of profit (that the client would have earned from intended investments had its funds not been unlawfully withheld).

ONTIER is recognised in the UK Legal 500 for commercial litigation, international arbitration and civil fraud.

The firm has offices in 18 cities in 13 countries, giving a truly international capability. 

London, 12 August 2022

https://uk.ontier.net/

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

NFTs: Ukraine, Beeple & The Law

Whether you own or trade in them or think they’re little more than a speculative bubble, you can’t deny that NFTs – or Non-Fungible Tokens – have entered the public consciousness in recent times.


What are NFTs?

Firstly, what even are these strange digital tokens that have been causing such a wave of interest across popular culture? 

Non-fungible tokens are essentially unique and irreplaceable digital tokens containing valuable information stored on a blockchain – essentially a database of transaction records – with the Ethereum blockchain being the most popular. Think of them as a digital asset that represents real-world objects like music, digital trading cards, in-game items, and videos – but the real craze has been for NFTs in the digital art format which has taken the art world by storm. 

Art World

The prevalence of NFTs can perhaps be attributed to the continued endorsements of high-profile names, mainstream media coverage, and social media hype which boosts a market whose products arguably have no actual intrinsic value. However, the seismic shift this new art form is causing can be clearly seen through nearly $41 billion being spent on NFTs by the end of 2021 – making the market nearly as valuable as the global art market. One of the most well-known NFT artists is Mike “Beeple” Winkelmann, whose NFT “Everydays: the First 5000 Days” sold for an astounding $69 million at Christie’s in March 2021.  According to Christie’s, the sale put “Beeple” “among the top three most valuable living artists,” behind only David Hockney and Jeff Koons.

Popular Culture

Celebrity endorsements for NFTs and such collections as “The Bored Ape Yacht Club” has been a significant catalyst in the explosion in popularity of NFTs. “The Bored Ape Yacht Club” is one of many exclusive NFT digital art collections, with only 10,000 Bored Apes NFTs in existence. Access to an exclusive club known as “the swamp club” is also granted to each owner of one of the rare ape-themed NFTs. Owning NFTs from an exclusive collection usually grants access to prestigious real-world events or Discord group chats with the world’s elite, thus increasing their value beyond mere aesthetic appeal.

Many influential people display their allegiance to their NFT community by changing their social media profile picture to a cartoonish picture of their colourful animated ape NFT, for example. Such celebrity endorsements range from billionaire Elon Musk, Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, and footballer Lionel Messi to artist Damien Hurst, online personality KSI, and former One Direction singer Liam Payne, to name a few.

Companies are also jumping on the trend, with Spotify recently announcing plans to add blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens to its streaming service, a move that many are optimistic will help to boost artists’ earnings. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit are also some of the latest social media heavyweights to announce plans to enable the trading and displaying of NFTs on their platforms. Snoop Dogg has also emerged as a prominent player in the market, selling more than $44 million worth of NFTs over the course of five days in support of his new album, sending shockwaves across the music industry in the process. For context, the album would have needed to amass 7.3 billion streams to earn him that same amount of alleged revenue. 

Concerns & The Law

NFTs have, however, prompted security concerns that need to be addressed if they are to convert the doubters. These issues include such scenarios as if the platform an NFT is built on goes out of business the NFT might not be accessible and thereby lose all value. Also worth noting is the rise in NFT fraud with one of the simplest forms of fraud coming in the form of people selling NFTs from artworks that they do not own the right to use. Litigation PR skills could be needed to convince a sometimes sceptical mainstream media that the theft of NFTs by unanimous individuals acting online is as damaging as the misappropriation of real-world assets. To ensure such online characters are held accountable for their actions there will also need to be an adaption of the law for a new third category of legal “things” to exist – a tertium quid – to sit alongside those of ‘chose in possession’ and ‘chose in action’.

The NFT market has also been unsteady in recent times with a significant slowdown in the market seen through the number of accounts buying and selling NFTs falling from 380,000 at its peak in November 2021 to 194,000 currently, along with a startling drop of 48 percent in the average selling price in the same period, according to NonFungible – the world’s largest NFT data resource. This also correlates with the cryptocurrency market which widely peaked in November 2021, such as the Ether cryptocurrency which uses the Ethereum blockchain upon which many NFTs are positioned, issuing a stark reminder of the digital assets market volatility.

Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has seen a significant flow of cryptocurrency and NFT donations coming into the country to help fund its war efforts against the invading Russian forces. The Ukrainian government is even releasing an NFT collection to add to this unconventional fundraising vessel, with each token carrying a piece of art representing a story from a trusted news source documenting the war. This opening of the door for media-related NFTs could mean that in the future we may well see a collection of NFTs released by broadcasters on our own shores. NFT collections of archive footage from the two World Wars and later conflicts to fundraise for Remembrance Sunday, or famous newspaper front pages from the past could be just a few of the copious digital products on the horizon. If it makes money it makes sense. Rather than just reporting on the subject from the outside looking in, the media world would be interwoven with it. You would reasonably assume that this would cause a greater sense of seriousness and urgency to develop around the reporting of the subject, particularly around allegations of fraud.

Final Note

Do NFTs represent the future of the internet as it edges towards its new phase of the “Web3” and the metaverse which will transform a myriad of industries, or are they just a huge digital pyramid scheme that is yet to implode? Whatever the outcome, there is something to note from a PR standpoint and that is the power of the endorsement and hype in bolstering the emergence of NFTs and cryptocurrencies in the past couple of years. 

This familiarisation and repackaging of NFTs to make them appear “cool” to own – and smart to invest in – by some of the most influential people on the planet have fanned the flames of society’s interest and allowed the NFT train to continue down its uncertain tracks. 

Is this the start of a new era? We’ll have to wait and see.  

By Declan Flahive

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