MADRID Barcelona, until recently one of the few clubs in world soccer whose players did not display a corporate logo, will switch to Qatar Airways as their official shirt sponsor next season, the Spanish club said on Friday.
The airline's logo will replace Qatar Foundation on the front of their strip, the club said in a statement on their website (www.fcbarcelona.com).
The change is part of a controversial sponsorship agreement signed with Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) last year.
Barca signed what was then the most lucrative shirt sponsorship deal in soccer, worth 30 million euros a year and helping to promote the Gulf nation that will host the 2022 World Cup.
"Qatar Foundation has been the beneficiary of the contract (signed with QSI) for the last two years and starting from July 1 it is going to become Qatar Airways," Barca vice president Javier Faus told the club's television channel.
"QSI has given the rights of our main sponsorship to Qatar Airways. We are happy to accept the change. They are a global company and we share many of the values they have.
"Beyond that, they have expressed their intentions to increase their investment in Catalunya."
As part of the deal with QSI, Qatar Foundation replaced the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Barca's shirts, with the UNICEF logo being relegated to the back below the number and player's name.
Barca pay the organisation 1.5 million euros a year to display their name.
Barca are one of four Spanish top-flight clubs to be owned by their members, along with Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna.
Some members spoke out against the deal with QSI, pointing to what they said was Qatar's poor human rights record.
The club countered that the country was trying to make improvements in those areas, and that Barca needed investment to be able to keep competing at the highest level. (Reporting by Mark Elkington, editing by Clare Fallon)