MADRID, Spain, November 16 – Barcelona announced on Friday that they will put Qatar Airways on their shirts, displaying a purely corporate advertisement for the first time under a 170-million-euro ($210-million) deal approved last year.
Qatar Airways will feature on the Barca shirts for the 2013-2014 season, the Catalan club said.
The airline will replace the Qatar Foundation, which currently features on the front of the Barcelona jersey with the United Nation’s children’s fund UNICEF displayed on the back.
Barcelona signed the five-and-a-half year shirt sponsorship, touted as the richest in football history, in December 2010 and it was approved by club members in September last year.
The decision to allow commercial advertising on the shirt provoked heated debate among fans, with Barcelona’s legendary former Dutch coach Johan Cruyff saying in 2010 that it was “sullying the jersey”.
Though the deal signed with Qatar Sports Investments initially placed the Qatar Foundation on the club’s shirts, it included a clause allowing a switch in sponsor after the first two seasons.
Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker said he would work with Barcelona to benefit both the club’s fans and its passengers.
“We are delighted to form this alliance with FC Barcelona, the biggest football club in the world,” he said.
Barca president Sandro Rosell said in a statement that Barcelona “fully identifies” with Qatar Airways’ commitment to excellence.
The Qatar Foundation, which sets up Middle East education, science and community development projects, now becomes Barcelona’s “human develop partner”, the club said.
Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup.
Barcelona, whose players include Argentina star Lionel Messi, currently lead the Spanish league and are eight points ahead of rivals Real Madrid, who are the defending champions.