Newcastle star strikes over moneylending sponsor

Ad on: Sissoko, also a Muslim, agreed to wear Newcastle’s Wonga-sponsored shirt © Getty Images

Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse was happy at his club. But when asked to wear a shirt advertising a high interest loan company, he simply refused to play. Is he in the right?

When footballers fall out with their clubs, the causes are often a little sordid: pay disputes, public verbal spats, accusations of laziness or indiscipline. But when Papiss Cisse announced his unwillingness to appear in a Newcastle United shirt, his cause was altogether more principled.

Cisse, a striker from the West African nation of Senegal, was Newcastle’s joint top scorer last season. He is liked by the fans and said to be happy at the club. But when Newcastle’s owners announced that the team shirt would now be emblazoned with the logo of payday loan company Wonga, this goodwill collapsed in an instant.

Why? Because Papiss Cisse is a practising Muslim who lives by Sharia Law. And according to Islamic scripture, lending money for profit is strictly forbidden. This law is based on the simple observation that money has no value in its own right. And making a profit by selling something worthless, says the Quran, is immoral.

For centuries, Christian Churches echoed this prohibition. The sin of usury prevented believers from earning money on interest. But since the 16th Century, most Christians have gradually reconciled themselves with the practice: the financial system of the modern West is reliant on usury on a spectacular scale. Earnings on interest are the backbone of every mainstream bank, in some cases amounting to almost £100 billion per year.

For a Muslim like Cisse, any association with money lending is immoral. But Newcastle’s new sponsors Wonga are highly controversial even among those without such religious convictions. Specifically targeting people in urgent financial need, they issue loans with annual interest rates of up to 5,853%.

Take out a loan of £100, and over a pound will be charged each day until the money is repaid. Failure to return the loan on time means massive penalties of hundreds of pounds per week – and ultimately, if the money is not forthcoming, a visit from the bailiffs.

With millions struggling to make ends meet, companies like Wonga are experiencing a boom. But according to the Citizens Advice Bureau, personal ruin is often the result: in the past two years the number of loan-related emergencies has risen by 400%.

Wronga?

‘I’m with Papiss!’ cry critics of modern finance. Companies like Wonga, they say, are no better than the most predatory of loan sharks: they feed on the desperate and contribute nothing to the general good. High interest lending must be banned.

That attitude belongs in the past, fans of the free market reply. Modern capitalism is based on the freedom to lend and borrow money, and we have capitalism to thank for all the luxuries we enjoy today. As long as Wonga is honest about its terms, its services should be available to anyone.

You Decide

  1. Would you refuse to participate in a competition if you disapproved of its sponsor?
  2. Is there anything immoral about lending money for profit?

Activities

  1. Write down five things you associate with the word ‘money’ and compare your answers with the rest of the class.
  2. If you take out a £230 loan at an interest rate of 3.5% per year, how much money will you owe at the end of the year in total?

Some People Say...

“Money is worth only as much as the paper it’s printed on.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So taking out a loan is basically a terrible idea?
Not necessarily. If you need cash to pay for something essential to your life or career and you know you will be able to pay it back in future, borrowing money can be extremely helpful. Student loans, for instance, are safe: the interest is very low and you don’t need to pay them back until you are earning a decent wage. But you must always pay close attention to the terms and conditions.
Is there any way of avoiding banks that charge interest?
Yes. One possibility is Islamic banking, in which all investments are linked to approved products which have intrinsic value. Other ‘ethical banks’ like Triodos are also becoming more popular as trust in mainstream finance declines.

Word Watch

Sharia law
A code of rules based on the Quran (the Islamic holy book) and the examples set by the Prophet Mohammed. Many Muslims believe that these rules should be reflected in personal life, family life and the law.
Usury
An old-fashioned word which describes unethical loans. When all money lending was considered unethical in Europe, banking was often left to Jewish people (who had no such prohibitions). This led to many false negative stereotypes about Jews, which persisted into the 20th century and have yet to be eradicated even today.
Interest
The money a lender charges for their services over a period of time. For instance, if you borrow £100 at 5% interest per year, you will owe £105 by the year’s end. In Sharia Law, this is called ‘riba’.
Bailiffs
If a creditor is owed money and they have not been repaid, they are legally entitled to employ a bailiff who can claim property up to the value of the debt. Some bailiffs work privately while others are employed by the state.

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