A new online petition that calls on FC Barcelona to terminate its shirt sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways over concerns for the airline’s female staff has attracted more than 50,000 signatures in three days.
The Sum of Us petition asks the Spanish football club to “cut ties” with Qatar’s national carrier “until workers’ conditions improve.”
Qatar Airways has come under pressure recently over its employment policies for women. Last month, the International Labour Organization (ILO) urged the airline to retool policies that dismiss flight attendants who become pregnant and ban them from accepting rides from male friends to and from their home.
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker reportedly dismissed the ILO report’s findings, saying: “I don’t give a damn about the ILO – I am there to run a successful airline. This is evidence of a vendetta they have against Qatar Airways and my country.”
Nearly 53,000 people have so far signed up in support of the petition, which also calls for an end to Qatar’s controversial kafala sponsorship system.
In a statement on the petition website under the title “why is this important,” it adds:
“Qatar’s national employment system, kafala, is is cruel and brutal. Employers are allowed to prevent workers from leaving the country, even if they mistreat workers.
My message to the sporting world, Barcelona and FIFA: we cannot legitimize a company that exploits thousands of vulnerable workers. It is against the values of the sport. We need to drop Qatar Airways as a sponsor.”
According to the website, the petition was created by Abdelslam Ouaddou, a former Moroccan international defender who played football in Qatar.
In 2010, Ouaddou moved here to play for Lekhwiya before joining Qatar SC in 2011 on a two-year deal.
However, the agreement soon turned sour when Ouaddou claimed he had not been paid for six months and filed a complaint with FIFA’s dispute resolution chamber, which he won in February last year.
During the dispute, Ouaddou said that he had been refused an exit permit until he dropped his complaint, sparking the footballer’s criticism of the state’s sponsorship system.
“When you work in Qatar you belong to someone. You are not free. You are a slave. Of course it is not the same situation as the [construction] workers in Qatar, but there is a parallel. It is the same methodology. They can throw you away like old socks,” he told CNN in 2013.
Qatar Airways took over sponsorship of FC Barcelona for the 2013-14 football season, after Qatar Foundation’s name had appeared on the shirts for the previous two years.
The QR700 million deal was signed in 2010, marking the first time in 111 years that the club had accepted money for an organization’s name on their shirts.
There are rumors that a new, five-year sponsorship deal between Qatar Airways and Barcelona has been agreed although nothing has been officially confirmed.
The football club’s presidential candidate Joan Laporta has reportedly said he will scrap the sponsorship agreement if he is elected.
“The club has many other way of generating revenue. It is a matter or values. I want to rescue the values of our club.”
In January this year, Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned as the club president at the end of the football season this summer ahead of his reelection campaign, said the club was reconsidering its sponsorship agreement due to the “social and political” situation in Qatar.
Qatar’s kafala system has attracted criticism from human rights organizations across the world, since it won hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup.
In May last year, it pledged to reform the system, but more than a year later little in the way of progress has been made.
Last month, the government issued an official statement pledging to have a final draft of the revised law done before the end of this year despite reservations held by members of Qatar’s Advisory (Shura) Council.
Last week, the council members approved a draft law, which will now be considered by the Cabinet.