BLAST’s Abu Dhabi Ties Could Be Questioned In Danish Parliament
Søren Søndergaard, a spokesperson for the Enhedslisten party in Denmark, has indicated that he will bring up concerns regarding BLAST’s association with Abu Dhabi in front of parliament, given Abu Dhabi’s status as what he calls a dictatorship state.
BLAST, the Copenhagen headquartered esports organizer of CS:GO esports events, recently hosted the BLAST Premier World Finals 2022 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) as part of its three-year partnership with Abu Dhabi Gaming, which is a state-led initiative.
The issue with this association was called out by the Danish Broadcast Company through a publication, DR, which pointed out that the Danish government has a stake of close to 20% in BLAST through a public investment fund called Vækstfonden. This association, it said, amounted to a mingling of taxpayer money with an event that positively impacted Abu Dhabi.
“It is one thing that private companies invest in Abu Dhabi and similar dictatorship states, but Danish taxpayers must not contribute to that. Therefore, I want to discuss with the minister whether it can really be right that the Growth Fund, which has business ethics and social responsibility explicitly in its objectives, must directly or indirectly contribute to investments in this princely dictatorship,” Søndergaard was quoted as saying, as he waits for a parliamentary committee to come into force.
Has Sportswashing Arrived In Esports?
The UAE has been accused of arbitrary arrests, detainee abuse, forcible deportations, curtailing freedom of speech and expression, and penalizing homosexual people over the years. Revelations about practices like the kafala system, a draconian sponsorship system regulating the relationship between migrant workers and their local employers, observed in middle eastern countries like the UAE have also recently come to light because of the 2022 FIFA World Cup held in Qatar.
Many middle eastern state funds have made their way into global sports through investments over the last decade, which is widely believed to be the reason Qatar managed to win hosting rights in the first place. This phenomenon of pushing soft power into the field has been defined as sportwashing and has been at the heart of many people’s concerns.
BLAST’s three-year deal with Abu Dhabi gaming is only the start for middle eastern nations. Saudi Arabia, the largest and most prosperous middle east country, plans to make itself a global esport hub by 2030.
The Saudi Esports Federation has labeled this goal as “Vision 2030”. The federation plans on investing $38 million to make this vision a reality. The esports industry is still emerging and needs funding to expand.
BLAST’s website states that every person in every corner of the world deserves to watch, play and love esports in a positive, safe, and sustainable environment. On the one hand, diversity within any industry should be encouraged, but expansion often comes at a price. And they are now likely to be called out much more widely.
Due Diligence Lacking, Says Amnesty
Amnesty International Denmark’s press manager, Malene Haakanson, has also come out with a statement condemning the UAE.
“The United Arab Emirates, like other authoritarian regimes in the region, use major sporting events to remove the focus from the serious human rights violations that take place in the country,” she said.
Haakanson added that the Danish fund should have done their due diligence before accepting this deal. She emphasized that a state financing fund has a heightened responsibility and questioned how BLAST plans to deal with this agreement.
BLAST have withdrawn from collaborations in the past. Two years back, BLAST entered into an agreement with Saudi Arabia. The agreement was met with a lot of backlash from the esports community before BLAST withdrew.
With that precedent, neither the fund itself nor BLAST can simply let this pass them by. The BLAST website speaks of committing to responsible behavior and actively approaching relevant, significant social, environmental, and managerial conditions.
The website also speaks of creating an equal playing field in esports for any person, gender, race, or background. As things stands, BLAST could be accused of going against these principles by entering into an agreement with Abu Dhabi Gaming.
The fund suggested in a written statement to DR that it cannot control ‘individual investment’ and has only done its part in investing into a Danish company. It did, however, add that it would examine to make sure that the companies in its portfolio would ‘meet the requirements for responsible corporate behavior’ and perform adequate clarifications if required.