As the advert tells it, the Qatar-powered “Land of FC Barcelona” is a happy-clappy, all-singing, all-dancing utopia where Gerard Pique mans the desk at border control.
Qatar itself? Maybe not so much, if you’re unlucky enough to be a migrant worker building the World Cup 2022 infrastructure. In that circumstance, evidence points towards the strong chance that your life is pretty crap.
Sure, the sponsorship money’s great; but headlines such as “Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’ ” aren’t really doing many favors for the whole “more than a club” Barcelona brand.
Back in 2010, when they signed a jersey sponsorship deal worth about $40m per year in a bid to reduce their astronomical debts, Barcelona were pretty clear that they were getting into bed with Qatar for economic reasons.
Their jerseys originally bore the logo of the nonprofit Qatar Foundation, which seemed at least vaguely palatable; but in 2013 they were replaced by Qatar Airways.
Now, with the deal up in 2016, Barcelona’s president says that the club is looking “at alternatives to Qatar” because of “social issues.”
So we wait to see what Barcelona will do with their players’ chests. Go back to UNICEF, maybe? Restore the ad-free jerseys for which they were once so admired, and which symbolized a kind of sporting purity and principled stance that somewhere down the line got lost in a quest for cash? Or maybe glue on a graphic of a magical unicorn or a fluffy bunny rabbit? That probably won’t bring up any “social issues.”
After all the negative publicity they’ve endured in the past couple of years, it’s about time Barcelona became everyone’s favorite club again. Certainly a magical unicorn could help with that.