Religious stance sees Newcastle striker pull out of preseason training

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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.