Barcelona has approved a contested shirt sponsorship deal with the non-profit Qatar Foundation worth 171 million euros at a general assembly by a wide margin.
The club signed the five-and-a-half year deal, touted as the largest shirt sponsorship deal in football history, in December but the decision to collect money for the first time in its history to display a logo on its jerseys did not go down well.
Barcelona’s legendary former Dutch coach Johan Cruyff has blasted the endorsement deal as “vulgar” and thousands of club fans signed a petition to demand that the agreement be revoked.
But club members unanimously accepted the shirt sponsorship deal at a general assembly late on Saturday, with 697 votes in favour of keeping the deal, 76 against and 36 abstentions, the club said on its Internet site.
The Qatar Foundation, founded in 1995, has set up projects focusing on education, scientific research and community development, mainly in the Middle East.
It is run by the wife of Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani who seized power from his father in a bloodless coup in 1995 and in 2003 declared his son Tamim heir apparent.
Part of the opposition to the shirt sponsorship deal stems from the lack of democracy in Qatar, which has no organised opposition groups and where parliamentary elections have repeatedly been postponed.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, who played for Qatar’s Al Ahly between 2003 and 2005 and who was one of the ambassadors for the nation’s successful 2022 World Cup bid, had defended the Gulf state on Wednesday, calling it “the most open Muslim country”.
“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. I think that we often don’t understand the Muslim world – nor they us,” he added.
Despite its success on the field, Barcelona is struggling financially.
The Catalan side posted a loss of 79.6 million euros last season — their first in seven years — and they have debts of 442 million euros.
Before the vote Barcelona’s economic vice-president, Javier Faus, told the members that the club’s board felt it had no choice but to accept the shirt sponsorship because “it has a substantial economic impact”.
But he stressed that the deal will end when the current board’s mandate comes to an end and the club could decide whether to continue wearing the Qatar Foundation name or switch to another after the third year.
“We wanted to solve financial questions but didn’t want the agreement to be irreversible,” he said.