In 2007, when Messi scored his wondergoal against Getafe, Barcelona was one of the last big European clubs to refuse corporate shirt sponsorship. Instead of taking a huge payday to shill for some fly-by-match-fixing betting site, the club donated the space on the front of its jerseys to UNICEF, which, even in the most worldly interpretation, was the kind of PR boost you couldn’t buy. Then, in 2010, it turned out you could buy it, and Barça accepted a €150 million deal with the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development — basically a fig-leaf transaction whereby the Qatari government purchased the club’s moral aura to help with its World Cup bid.5 Now, with new abuses in Qatar’s labor market coming to light seemingly every day, and as many as 1,200 Indian and Nepalese migrant workers already dead in World Cup construction, we’re watching a strange phenomenon play out at the Camp Nou every week: Soccer’s most admired club, which self-consciously stands for freedom and liberation, is advertising its ties to the worst offender in the sport.
Verdict: It’s not as though having a Qatar Foundation logo on the front of your shirt makes you run slower. But I’m not convinced that the increasing air of cynicism around Barcelona has no practical effect. The club’s golden era was special in part because it involved players who seemed to understand and believe in what FC Barcelona stood for. You can sneer at this, but that shared belief was at least partly the basis of the teamwork that made the club so formidable. Well, what does Barcelona stand for now? Having UNICEF on your shirt doesn’t make you league champions — but having it, then selling it, then watching as the hypocrisy of your club’s dealings is exposed gradually year over year? That has to make you at least a tiny bit more selfish, a tiny bit less willing to give yourself up to the cause. I’m talking about slivers of percents, maybe just the effect of enemy crowds chanting a fraction louder. But soccer at a high level is often decided by slivers of percents.
What a brilliant read!