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26 Jul 2013 00:00
How much Wonga? Papiss Cissé is refusing to wear a Newcastle shirt bearing their sponsor’s logo. (Reuters)
The one-time teenage African ambulance driver turned Premier League striker invests a significant percentage of the riches he earns at Newcastle United into transforming lives in the remote, small-town, religiously devout community of his youth.
A new ambulance is being supplied to transport seriously ill patients on the five-hour journey for advanced medical treatment in the capital, Dakar, while up-to-date X-ray and scanning equipment has also been installed at the local hospital. Then there is the new health information centre, the new football academy and the new mosque.
Cissé, who returns to his childhood home at every opportunity, spending more than a month there earlier this summer, is helping to fund the lot and has established a charity, Friends of Sedhiou.
In Senegal, almost everyone wants to shake his hand.
Meanwhile, at St James' Park the 28-year-old provokes contrasting, conflicting emotions.
By refusing to wear branded kit bearing the logo of Newcastle's new sponsors, Wonga, on the grounds that promoting the payday loans company offends his Muslim and personal beliefs, Cissé is suddenly at the epicentre of a clash between football's corporate interests and ethical responsibilities.
With both Newcastle's owner, Mike Ashley, and Wonga adamant they will not grant his wish to appear in either charity or nonbranded gear, Cissé was left behind, training alone, when Alan Pardew's squad flew to a preseason training camp in Portugal last week. No one appears sure whether he is attempting to engineer a lucrative transfer – assorted Russian clubs are in pursuit – or making a rare, brave, principled stand.
With the new season looming and Joe Kinnear, Newcastle's new director of football, having, so far, failed to supply the two new strikers Pardew craves, Newcastle, acutely aware that sacking Cissé for breach of contract would involve forfeiting a near £10-million transfer fee,
have sought help from lawyers specialising in Islamic law, imams and the Professional Footballers' Association as they strive for a rapprochement.
So far, none seems likely, although it hardly helps that Cissé's beliefs appear somewhat amorphous. Although sharia law forbids an individual to benefit from interest payments, he had no difficulty sporting the logo of Newcastle's previous backer, Virgin Money.
Cissé perhaps regards the eye-watering interest rates charged by Wonga as a step too far but Abu Tayeb, project manager at the Islamic Diversity Centre North East, acknowledges an inherent contradiction.
"Even though I support Papiss Cissé's decision not to promote Wonga, the issue for me is the inconsistency," he says. "Whether it's Virgin Money, Barclays or Wonga, Islam considers the giving and receiving of interest impermissible. But Muslims are very diverse. Some practise their faith more strictly than others. There are different understandings and interpretations of Islamic law."
Such nuances possibly explain how other Muslim members of Pardew's squad, including Hatem Ben Arfa, Cheik Tiote and Moussa Sissoko, have reached an accommodation. "A Muslim has to honour his contract," Abu Tayeb says. "It's a major sin not to."
Waters are muddied by Cissé's failure to object immediately when Wonga's £24-million four-year sponsorship was announced year. His recent decision to switch representatives and employ the Senegalese agent Madou Diene raise further suspicions as to his motives.
Conversely, advocates of Cissé's stance say he fully intends remaining on Tyneside, where his life has been transformed by a romance with the model Rachelle Graham, Miss Newcastle 2012.
Moreover, they point to the pre-cedents set by Hashim Amla, the Muslim South Africa cricketer who was exempted from wearing shirts advertising Castle Lager, and the former Sevilla striker Fredi Kanoute's insistence on donning a plain, unbranded top after the striker objected to the club's betting company backer.
Eventually a deal was brokered for Kanoute to wear Sevilla's sponsored shirt during matches but be excused from any publicity work that involved gambling promotion.
Pardew must hope Ashley, Wonga and Cissé can somehow achieve a similar compromise without the need for the dispute to be taken to the Premier League board. – © Guardian News & Media 2013
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