Tom Bushell talks sport

Qatar Airways’ deal with Barcelona UAE footballers making a mark

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There’s no denying that three Middle Eastern airlines will soon own the world of sport – if they don’t already. We all know that Emirates has a huge involvement in sport and Etihad is building a fairly large portfolio. Qatar Airways is the latest to join in: the airline’s logo will appear on Barcelona shirts for three years, starting next season.

The deal means the Catalan club will wear a commercial brand on their kits for the first time in their history. Until 2006 the La Liga leaders didn’t have a shirt sponsor at all – the club was too big for all that. What changed it was global charity UNICEF, which struck a deal for its logo to appear on the shirts, and meant that the club continued its policy of having a non profit-making shirt sponsor.

Along came Qatar Foundation in 2010, when a deal was made between the club and Qatar Sports Investment, meaning that government-led charity Qatar Foundation would appear on the shirts. When that five-year agreement was signed, however, it was said that a change in sponsor could be looked at in the third year. Next season marks the third year and Qatar Airways will take the place of Qatar Foundation.

Barcelona president Sandro Rosell spoke of the move, saying that he had 90 percent of club members on board. Yet it’s a big move for a club that has never needed a corporate shirt sponsor. But times are changing, and the Spanish club needs investment plus a connection with Asia. The Qatar Airways deal will make it easy to fly in and out of Barcelona for matches, with special deals on flights, hotels and match tickets.

Staying with Barcelona, and UAE footballer Omar Abdulrahman may have caught the eye of the Spanish team, if reports are to be believed. Arsenal are another club linked to the talented Al Ain playmaker. Omar has had a year of fantastic performances, both for his club and for the UAE national and Olympic side, and it surely won’t be long until he takes to the European stage. At just 21 years old he has time on his side, but with Manchester City and Benfica also interested, he may have a big decision to make soon.
Tom Bushell hosts Sport On 7 on City 7 TV (Mon 8pm) and is Arabian Radio Network’s head of sport.

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