The corporate side of La Liga’s refugee humanity

“It’s a dream come true. I love Real Madrid, they’re my whole family’s favourite team. I’m very grateful for the welcome given to us by the president. In Syria, we dreamed of seeing a Real Madrid match, and now that’s going to come true.”

The words were spoken on Friday by Osama Abdul Mohsen, the Syrian refugee seen worldwide being tripped by a camera-woman while he was running towards the Hungarian/Serbian border.

Mohsen had been given a tour of the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu by club president, Florentino Perez, on Friday morning. On Saturday, his son, Zaid, 7, walked onto the pitch with Madrid superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, before the 1-0 home win over Granada.

Also on Friday, Barcelona director, Jordi Cardoner, announced his club’s campaign to aid the refugees arriving in Europe.

Cardoner outlined three aims for the campaign — fundraising, heightening awareness of the issues and the integration of newcomers into society.

“The idea is for this project to have the collaboration of everyone in the Barça family,” Cardoner said. “This is not a single act, but, rather, continuous action over time, something that differentiates us as a club.”

Other La Liga clubs have also been taking similar steps, while clubs around Europe have been raising funds and awareness of the refugee issue. €1 per ticket from the gate receipts at all Champions League and Europa League games last week was donated to the cause, while on Friday UEFA president, Michel Platini, pledged €2m to needy children recently arrived in Europe.

However, Spain’s big two are keen on being seen as international forces for good — with their activities often directed towards the Middle East. Summer 2013’s ‘FC Barcelona Peace Tour’ saw Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez visiting Israel and Palestine.

Madrid’s charitable foundation funds coaching clinics and educational centres in Palestine, Jordan and Iraqi Kurdistan.

The two clubs also have deep commercial connections to this region. Perez welcomed Mohsen to the Bernabeu the day before Saturday’s Madrid AGM, at which the construction magnate again faced down criticism of his controversial plan to redevelop the stadium.

The Abu Dhabi-based International Petroleum Investment Company is providing €400m towards the stadium rebuild, apparently in exchange for future naming rights. There are also shelved plans for a Real Madrid theme park in the United Arab Emirates.

Similarly, Barca president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, was in Qatar this week to discuss continuing the Catalan club’s sponsorship agreement with the Gulf state.

Barca have a €600m redevelopment of their stadium in the works, and it is widely assumed the new Camp Nou will have a Qatar-themed ‘surname’, when it’s finished.

It’s not that either Madrid or Barcelona were particularly devious or manipulative in their actions this week. But their reactions to the refugee crisis are far from spontaneous outpourings of humanitarian concern.

They form part of strategic social and corporate responsibility policies, at two huge, internationally-focused companies competing in a very globalised world.


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