A busy playing schedule has forced FC Barcelona to cancel a planned friendly match in Qatar for the second year in a row, a team official has said.
However, local fans of the famous football club are still being promised a chance to see its stars in action at some point before 2016 as the team is obliged to play a game in Qatar under the terms of its sponsorship agreement, said Javier Faus, the vice-president of FC Barcelona’s finance and strategy department.
“This is the only free week the players have throughout the whole season,” Faus said at a press conference yesterday afternoon at the Four Seasons Hotel in Doha.
“We were asked strongly by the team and the coach to let them rest this week … (But) we have an obligation to play a friendly match (in Qatar), and we will.”
Qatar Foundation became the first paid sponsor in FC Barcelona’s history to have its logo appear on the team’s jerseys under a deal signed in December 2010 that’s reported to be worth €150 million (QR623 million). Qatar Foundation’s logo was later replaced with that of Qatar Airways.
The agreement expires in 2016, and signs emerged late last month that FC Barcelona may be cool to renew its relationship with Qatar.
Media reports said club president Josep Maria Bartomeu told a Spanish radio station that the club is “sensitive to the current situation in Qatar, which has changed since four years ago.”
“Now there are social and political aspects which were not there when we signed,” he said.
Some have suggested that the club’s brand is suffering due to its association with Qatar, which has been criticized for the poor living and working conditions of its large migrant workforce.
Others, however, have argued that Bartomeu is using Qatar to build up political capital ahead of this year’s club presidential elections, mounting a “Clean up Barca’s image” campaign amid scandals involving allegations of signing underage players and illegal tax avoidance.
When asked yesterday about Bartomeu’s comments, Faus said the club has hired a firm to “assess the marketplace” for other potential sponsors ahead the current deal expiring, but appeared to be open to renewing its deal with the Gulf airline.
“We are extremely satisfied with Qatar Airways,” he said.
“There are zero problems with Qatar Airways, zero problems with Qatar. And we will definitely hope that this partnership lasts many, many more years,” subject to the recommendations of its outside consultant, he added.
For his part, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker dismissed Bartomeu’s comments outright.
“We don’t get carried away by comments of people who may say something which really they don’t mean,” he said, advising reporters to “ignore political statements.”
FC Barcelona will make a decision on its next sponsor in the second half of 2015, Faus said.