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Religious stance sees Newcastle striker pull out of preseason training

Jul 17, 2013, 4:27 PM EDT

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Newcastle striker Papiss Cissé has pulled out of the Magpies preseason camp as player and club continue to seek a resolution over the team’s shirt sponsor, with the devout Muslim seeing Portuguese short-term loan agency Wonga’s practices running contrary to his religious beliefs. Believing the small cash, high-interest world of pay day loans is exploitive and runs contrary to his religious beliefs, Cissé refuses to wear any apparel with the company’s name, a stance that has seen the player pull out of the club’s preseason tour of Portugal.

Cissé has scored 21 times in 50 games since joining Newcastle of January of 2012, and despite only finding net eight times last season, the Senegalese striker was expected to be Alan Pardew’s first choice when the new Premier League season started. The sponsor controversy, however, has left relations between club and player “strained,” according to reports, with the sides continuing to search for an acceptable solution.

The stance puts the club in a terrible position, especially considering other Muslim players (Cheick Tioté, Moussa Sissoko) continue to play. It’s natural to question Cissé’s interpretation, even if it’s ultimately wrong to make any assumptions about the extent of somebody’s religious beliefs. But having taken on this new business partner to the tune of over $10 million per season, Newcastle has obligations beyond Cissé, especially considering the lending company is unlikely to agree with any moral objection to their practices.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a cut-and-dry case. Pay day lending has blossomed in this country, and controversially so, with lenders able to function as types of low-level banks without falling under the same regulatory mechanisms. Predatory, exploitive, whatever term detractors choose to use, the practice is point of concern for many, though ultimately, defenders point out customers are making their own choices, often being helped by the service.

Cissé clearly is a detractor, an adamant one at that, which leaves the two sides at an impasse. The player has offered to wear a kit without a sponsor or a charity’s name in place of Wonga, though both solutions are problematic for Newcastle. Their deal with Wonga’s unlikely to include an “if the player wants to” clause. Any Newcastle kits without Wonga’s name on it would not only be a tactic concession that the company exists in an ethically murky area, but it would also undermine the exclusivity Wonga’s purchased with their rights deal.

Barring any kind of concession from Wonga, the best solution is for Cissé to back off his stance, especially if some other concession (charity donation) could be made. But the nature of his position means he can’t put on anything that says Wonga without being a hypocrite, a particularly onerous spot for somebody intensely religious. The Professional Footballers Association (union) and Newcastle may also be able to work out a loop hole that will allow both the player and Wonga to save face, but until that happens, Cissé’s Newcastle career’s on hold.

  1. dreadpirate82 - Jul 17, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    I’m fascinated by this situation. A transfer seems the most likely outcome, but it really hurts Newcastle’s bargaining power.

  2. ndnut - Jul 17, 2013 at 4:35 PM

    I applaud him for standing up for his beliefs. As a devout Catholic, I would do the same if an abortion clinic was being advertised.

    • korules - Jul 18, 2013 at 4:08 AM

      As a “devout Catholic”, you should dislike ALL football jerseys, no matter what’s on them, ’cause polyester yo.

      Anyhow, since abortion clinics aren’t after profit and simply don’t have the money (or desire for that matter) to sponsor anything sports related, you won’t have to worry about it too much :-).

  3. mdac1012 - Jul 17, 2013 at 5:50 PM

    If this is based on religion, then why did he not have a problem wearing his kit last year that had Virgin Money advertised on the shirt? See the picture above.

  4. Richard Farley - Jul 17, 2013 at 6:11 PM

    To my understanding, this is the case, too. But multiple outlets in England today reported as said above, so … hopefully we can use these comments to add some depth to the story.

    I’m pretty sure HBA is Muslim, but I also don’t know if my understanding should usurp the same BBC reporting to which I’m linking.

    So … blogging. Thanks for the comment, though. Gives us a chance to bring this up.

  5. bellerophon30 - Jul 17, 2013 at 7:08 PM

    Here’s a potential solution: Newcastle figures out a discount to give the payday company, some percentage of what it’s worth to put the logo of the shirt of Cisse in particular……then subtracts the discount from Cisse’s wages. See if he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is.

    Something tells me that he’s not.

  6. therealehboy - Jul 18, 2013 at 1:46 AM

    There are very strict rules against usurious lending in the koran, so I find this story totally plausible. And for all the authors/commenters saying “the obvious solution is for him to deal with it” … well, duh. But that’s not the point.

    If he’s really standing up for his beliefs (and not just angling to leave), you gotta respect this. We need more of this kind of conviction in sports.

  7. therealehboy - Jul 18, 2013 at 1:48 AM

    And to the poster who noted he had Virgin Money on his shirt… Virgin Money started as a way for family and friends to make small loans to other family (but in a semi official and serviced capacity). Payday loans are highly predatory and encourage “customers” falling into a financial death spiral.

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