The decision was made out of "cultural sensitivity". The Spanish club has major business interests in the Gulf. Sports have attracted Arab capital. However, “Should the team remove the crown from its crest when it plays in Republican countries?” fans ask.
Madrid (AsiaNews) – Real Madrid, one of Spain’s foremost football clubs and sport franchises, is set to change the design of its crest by removing the cross on top its crown. This comes after it signed a deal to market club-related sportswear in some Mideast countries.
The five-year agreement, which will bring some € 50 million (US$ 53 million) into the Spanish team’s coffers, was signed with Marka, a retailing company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which acquired an exclusive license for the production, distribution and sale of Real Madrid brand products in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.
In today’s sports world, business is important and the price can be the tiny cross on the crown of a glorious emblem. "We have to be sensitive towards other parts of the Gulf that are quite sensitive to products that hold the cross," Marka Vice Chairman Khaled al-Mheiri told Reuters.
Sales are set to start in March. meanwhile, e-mail requests for explanations from media and fans have failed to elicit a statement from the Real Madrid football club.
For the Spanish team, this is not the first time it has dropped the cross. It did the same in 2012 for the construction of the Real Madrid Resort Island in the UAE.
Again in 2014, the Spanish club removed the Christian symbol from its crest when used by its business partner, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. This triggered a reaction among other club partners and fans who loudly protested against the unilateral decision of club president Florentino Perez. Public opinion also reacted to the news.
The Enraizados (The Rooted Ones), a Catholic Association, launched a campaign to collect signatures to stop the removal of the cross from the crest because of the agreement with the Arabs. In a statement, the association said, "At a time when Christians are persecuted in many countries in Asia and Africa, Florentino Perez has decided to do away with the cross to avoid losing a contract worth millions. With this decision, the Real Madrid turns its back to the 800,000 Christians living in the UAE, 12.6 per cent of the population."
The Enraizados went further. “Should the team remove the crown from its crest when it plays in Republican countries?” they asked. Indeed, "Muslim footballers who signed up with the Real Madrid are used to playing with a cross on the crest on their jerseys, and none of them has objected.”
“Finally, let us not forget that like Real Madrid, a cross is present in the flags in many European countries whose governments do not remove it when their diplomatic delegations are in Muslim countries."
Currently, Arab money represents an important opportunity for European sports. Dubai-based Emirates Airlines is Real Madrid’s main jersey sponsor, whilst the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), the investment fund of the Government of Abu Dhabi, also sponsors the club.
The Real Madrid case is not unique. FC Barcelona removed the cross of Saint Jordi from its crest to sell more shirts in Muslim countries, and the Paris Saint-Germain, the French team owned by Qatar’s royal family, also changed its crest, which no longer shows the symbol of the saint’s cradle, deemed offensive in the Arab world for its associations with a dynasty that took part in the crusades and symbolises the city of Saint-Germain.