FC Barcelona of Spain is, at present, the world's most successful soccer team and as it wows crowds here in the U.S. on its exhibition tour, critics are weary of its sponsorship deal with a known sponsor of terrorism.
That dark-side is Barcelona’s ongoing financial relationship with the controversial Gulf state of Qatar, which shocked all in the soccer world when it beat out the U.S. bid to host the 2022 World Cup finals in a play that by all accounts was paid for by bribing other voting nations to vote for them.
Barcelona’s sponsorship deal with Qatar Sports Investment started in 2011 and is reportedly worth nearly $200 million.
The deal, which meant having the Qatar Foundation and now Qatar Airways on its prized shirts, is up for re-negotiation in 2016.
On its present tour of the U.S., Barcelona fans are on show everywhere proudly wearing their one hundred dollar plus Qatari Airlines emblazoned Barca shirts and while there was some talk earlier this year about its relationship with Qatar the relationship looks stronger than ever.
“The fact that F.C. Barcelona, for example, is sponsored by Qatar,” which Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, told Fox News dotcom, “openly backs [the U.S.-designated terrorist group] Hamas and has become a permissive environment for a wide range of illicit financial activity, is a black eye for the sport.”
Schanzer – who is now the vice president of research with the Washington, D.C., based Foundation for Defense of Democracies – drew a comparison with a certain disgraced NFL quarterback.
“This is just an indication that governments can no longer sideline or be exonerated for egregious behavior,”
“Michael Vick was jailed for dog fighting, and fans refused to wear his jersey. I am amazed that we have not seen a similar reaction to Qatar appearing on soccer jerseys.”
Although Qatar is considered an ally by the Obama Administration, reports indicate that the tiny gulf state of 300,000 citizens has a troubling record in terror-financing. Recent reports have even indicated funding of ISIL as well as Hamas and Al Qaeda.
“This is just an indication that governments can no longer sideline or be exonerated for egregious behavior,” Fox News Middle East contributor and foreign affairs analyst Lisa Daftari said, “such as human-rights violations or the financing of world terror on the global stage.”
Daftari added, “If Barcelona ends its sponsorship with Qatar, it’ll be a positive step for Western countries to hold state sponsors of terror, like Qatar, responsible for their actions and will put pressure on these nations to reconsider their alliances if they want to be well-received participants in global business, politics, or even soccer.”
Qatari officials are calling criticism against its World Cup bid and soccer federation racist. Earlier this month, foreign minister, Khaled al-Attiyah told Reuters, “I believe it is because of prejudice and racism that we have this bashing campaign against Qatar.”
Using the racist defense is an easy way to deflect attention from any mess but Qatar could find plenty of support for such a move.
This evening, Qatari sponsored, Barcelona will play in sold-out game just minutes away from our nation’s capital. Interestingly its opponent, English champions, Chelsea have as one of their sponsor’s Gazprom - a company inexorably linked with Russian President Vladimir Putin. While Gazprom is not printed on Chelsea’s shirts, critics fear soccer is being too easily tempted dirty money.
Ben Evansky is a Fox News Field producer. Follow him on twitter @globalposts