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F.C. Barcelona's New Shirt Sponsor Linked to Controversial Muslim Cleric

F.C. Barcelona's staggering $225 million shirt sponsorship from the Qatar Foundation will likely become a lightning rod of controversy due to the foundation's association with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim cleric who has justified suicide bombings and called for Allah to kill all Jews, "down to the very last one."

The deal is the biggest shirt sponsorship in all of soccer. It is worth €30 million (£25 million) per season for five years, for a total of €165 million, vaulting the club over recent deals by Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Liverpool F.C., which were all record-setters themselves.

The deal initially caused consternation amongst the club's fans because, unlike all other top-flight clubs, it had never before taken a shirt sponsor. Instead, Barca donated its shirtfront to Unicef, giving the team a certain ethical nobility that others lacked. All that is now out of the window as the club sways under a gross debt load of €442 million. Former Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff said the new deal was "sullying the jersey." In response, Barcelona president Sandro Rosell said:
We concluded that it was better that the payroll get paid rather than not.
This is to plug holes. The economy was worse than what we thought and what they told us.
But it is the Qatar Foundation's links to al-Qaradawi that will likely draw protests in the long run. In 2009, al-Qaradawi said on Al-Jazeera TV:
Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them â€" even though they exaggerated this issue â€" he managed to put them in their place.
This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers ...
The same year, also on Al-Jazeera, he called for Allah to kill all Jews:
Oh Allah, take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.
As a result of his views on suicide bombing, he is banned from travelling to the U.S. and the U.K. Despite all that, the Qatar Foundation -- which generally supports moderate Islam and links with the West -- opened an "Al-Qaradawi Centre for Islamic Moderation and Renewal" in September 2009. The intent of the center is to fight extremism, but that seems unlikely to happen given al-Qaradawi's statement to the Financial Times this month that he is no longer interested in obeying the law in the West:
"I was for the possibility of bridging the gap between the east and the west but recently I have changed my mind on this issue, especially since the west wants to impose its values and traditions on us," Mr Qaradawi told his congregation at Doha's Omar bin Al Khattab Mosque in a televised sermon in October.
"West is west and east is east. They do not recognise or follow our traditions and customs, so we should not follow theirs," Mr Qaradawi said, echoing Rudyard Kipling, the British author.
Related: Images by Wikimedia Commons, CC; and BigSoccer.
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