Dec 12 (Reuters) - Qatar Airways hopes to maintain commercial ties with Barcelona despite ending its contract to sponsor the Spanish champions’ shirts, CEO Akbar Al Baker said on Monday.
Barca signed the most lucrative shirt sponsorship deal in world soccer last month by agreeing a four-year deal with Japanese internet retailer Rakuten worth 55 million euros ($58.9 million) a year.
Qatar Airways will cease to be the club’s shirt sponsor from next season and Al Baker did not hide his disappointment at losing out to Rakuten.
“It’s unfortunate that we were not selected. Our contract finishes next June but we are having conversations about being the club’s main airline partner,” Al Baker told a news conference on Monday ahead of Barcelona’s friendly with Al-Ahli Saudi in Doha on Tuesday.
“When we finish discussions and things are clearer we’ll decide if we stay together or not. Right now we have various teams that want us to sponsor them so we’ll take our time to decide what direction we take.”
Barca have named a full-strength squad for the friendly, which was agreed as part of the sponsorship deal, despite facing Espanyol in a local derby on Sunday.
The Catalan club used to be renowned for having no sponsor on their shirts but ended that tradition in 2010 by signing a record 30 million euro per year deal with the Qatar Foundation.
Barca’s association with Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, has been criticised by human rights groups and some supporters, with former president Joan Laporta pledging to end ties with the gulf state in his presidential campaign in 2015.
Although Laporta lost the election to incumbent Josep Maria Bartomeu, the relationship between the club and its principal sponsor became more fraught, and the two parties only extended their agreement by one year last July.
Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond