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Dermot Corrigan on 22 September 2011

Despite Barcelona's debts of €364m some fans are still angered by their sponsorship deal with the Qatari Foundation, and they're planning to do something about it...

For years FC Barcelona was held up as the one leading club which was holding out against the complete commercialisation of football, and doing so in the most visible way possible by not besmirching their iconic blaugrana with a big brand name. Then in 2006 previous club president Joan Laporta agreed an arrangement which saw UNICEF’s name appear in the sponsors’ spot on the club’s jersey. Once the slippery slope had been reached, it was no surprise when last December a multi-million euro shirt sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation was announced by current president Sandro Rosell.

This sliding into the commercial mire has not gone down too well with all of the club’s fans, especially those of a more traditional or idealistic bent. And with Barcelona being a members club, where in theory its socios get to decide on the most important club matters, this coming Saturday at a specially called Asamblea de Compromisarios a vote will be held on whether to accept or reject the new deal (although it does seem a bit late considering the season has already started, with the team already wearing the sponsored shirts).

The Qatari angle in particular has drawn severe criticism from some Barca supporters, as they say it clashes with Barca’s ethical, humanist and Catalan traditions.

“The club is not being open or transparent,” said a statement from disgrunted group Consulta Qatar reported in yesterday’s AS. “Until now, Rosell has been unable to negate the accusations about the Qatar government’s denial of human rights, such as the links between Qatar Foundation and the philosopher Yosuf al-Qadarawi, who is an apologist for Islamic terrorism.”

Consulta Qatar say that the club’s board will not listen to their concerns, and have gone as far as taking down banners at games in the Camp Nou and expelling protesters from the stadium. They would prefer a referendum where all Barcelona members could decide on the issue, rather than the more limited asamblea which they say favours Rosell and club insiders. They claim the support of over 5,000 socios, but need 7,000 to force the full vote and have asked those eligible to attend on Saturday to show their disapproval by leaving their voting slip blank.

On Tuesday, Barca boss Pep Guardiola entered the debate by saying he was in favour of the Qatar deal.

“It’s very good that we debate this and also a very good decision of the board’s to let the members decide on it,” he said at the press briefing ahead of the mid-week game at Valencia. “It’s one of the healthy democratic values we have.”

Pep went on to give his own positive view of Qatar, formed when he played two seasons at Al-Ahli in Doha from 2003 to 2005.

“I lived for two years in Qatar and my family and I received wonderful treatment,” he said. “Qatar is opening up to the Western world and I know the efforts that the Foundation is putting in to do some really good things. We often don’t understand the Muslim world – nor they us. Qatar is the most open Muslim country and the closest to the Western democracies, but they need time.”

Guardiola also helped build bridges between East and West in his more recent role as an official Qatar 2022 Bid Ambassador (alongside Gabriel Batistuta, Zinedine Zidane, Ronald de Boer and Roger Milla), which saw the tiny country controversially win the vote to host the finals tournament. Here he is starring in a promotional video for the Qatar bid which includes well-known Barcelona sights like the Sagrada Familía and Las Ramblas. It seems likely that these links with the Gulf-state didn’t hurt when Barca were casting around for new revenue sources.

Rosell has warned those giving out about the deal that if Barcelona turn up their noses at the huge cash involved (€165 million over five seasons) the Qataris might just take it elsewhere, and has hinted they could choose bitter rivals Real Madrid. This is pretty obvious scaremongering, although the protesters raising the spectre of Islamic terrorism is not really cricket either. El País has reported in the past about confusion between one Qatari foundation which does good works and another with worrying links with Hamas.

Guardiola was right when he said that, wherever it comes from, the club certainly need the money as they, just like most teams in La Liga (and the Premiership and Serie A too), are in deep financial doo-doo. According to the most recent published accounts Barca’s debts have fallen by €67m since Rosell took over, but are still at €364m.

Meanwhile, as Barca’s more idealistic fans protest against the source of the money needed to pay the wages of their home-grown superstars, four of La Liga’s second tier sides - Sevilla, Atlético Madrid, Valencia and Villarreal - have started the season without any shirt sponsor at all. Some might say that the protesters should just be thankful that they get to support perhaps the best club side of all time, but still you have to admire their adherence to the more ethical end of their club’s traditions no matter how old-fashioned and impractical that might now seem.


Dermot Corrigan is an Irish freelance writer living in Madrid and writing about football at Sport 360, Fox Soccer, When Saturday Comes and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

Comments

Pep's opinions are in no way swayed by the huge sums of money he would have received as a player in Qatar and probably to support their World Cup bid. yet more hypocrisy and against an institution that is, despite it's claims, simply a football club
by Gollo on 22 September 2011 at 12:17 PM

It's a shame that they're in so much debt that they have to leave their tradition behind money.
by Oli Mercer on 22 September 2011 at 12:34 PM

Why have so many La Liga teams gone without shirt sponsors this season? Do companies not think there's any value promoting their brand on the non-Classico teams anymore?
by Ed on 22 September 2011 at 12:57 PM

The 5731 people who signed for us, they want a referendum in which ALL the members, and not only the ones in the assembly (who are designed randomly, therefore they only represent thmeselves) to vote wethere we agree or not agree with the new sponsorship.
We only seek the best way to participate in a club that belongs to the members, the whole 180.000 members, in an issue which we all agree is historycal for the club. We would like to open a debate before the referendum, and find out which is the real deal (30 M/year minus, 1 friendly game 2.5M, minus statium publicity 3M?, training shirts 5/9 M?, manU signed an 11M for the training shirts). Changing UNICEF from the front of the shirt to a country which we cant deny the human rights are not respected is something we have to be really sure to do it, and if there is no other way... lets the members decide, ALL of them!!!
by jordi cases from Consultaqatar.cat on 22 September 2011 at 01:52 PM

Oli- Don't forget, they also have a (perhaps more important) tradition of winning, which is no longer really possible to continue in Spain without considerable debt.
by rightthen on 22 September 2011 at 04:57 PM

Putting UNICEF on the shirt wasn't the start of a slippery slope. I understand they finally had something on the shirt, but putting a charity on their shirt and actually donating to it would surely make them seem even more like lovely people, rather than starting a long slide towards being bad.

Sorry, just being petty smile
by Rusty on 22 September 2011 at 05:02 PM

Hi guys,

Gollo - I'd say it doesn't hurt alright.

Oli - Yeah definitely, and it's also a shame the League let them away with it.

Ed - That's a good question, have heard clubs are making a stand and refusing to be bargained down, but dunno for usre.

Jordi - Fair dues to you guys for your campaign. A full referendum sounds like a good idea.

Dermot
by Dermot on 22 September 2011 at 06:26 PM

"El País has reported in the past about confusion between one Qatari foundation which does good works and another with worrying links with Hamas." Sure, lets worry about a democratically elected political organisation that is trying to stand up for the Palestinians, not the apartheid, nuclear equipped, human rights violating, illegal settlement building ally that is doing everything within its power to ethnically cleanse its ill-gotten land while the rest of us look on and pat it on the back. Sorry this isn't football related but I couldn't help commenting on such a misinformed remark.
by Sid on 23 September 2011 at 04:07 AM

A bit behind the times I know but I love an unsponsoured club shirt. Financialy it's pretty crazy if you've passed up money but now we're in the age of advanced screen printing so many sponsors are gaudy horrible logos.

Classic text only sponsors can actually add to the shirts though. Thinking back to my childhood and Arsenal's JVC and Ajax's ABN AMBRO, even Man U's Sharp they made the shirts look complete.

Just remember how lucky you are you don't support a French team (unless you do, in which case aaaaaaaahhh!) as many of their shirts look like F1 gear now.
by Iain Ashby on 23 September 2011 at 12:04 PM

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