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Why Barcelona fans in Saudi Arabia are being threatened with prison

Barcelona's Paco Alcacer celebrates scoring against Deportivo Alaves during the Spanish Copa del Rey final at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on May 27, 2017
Josep LAGO (AFP)
Saudi government threatens fines or even prison time for wearing a Barcelona shirt in public

Barcelona football club diehards in Saudi Arabia have been warned to keep their fandom to themselves after the desert kingdom announced a policy of fining those who publicly don the team's shirt – all because of the prominent logo of their sponsor, Qatar Airways.

Saudi Arabia, and a host of other Arab states, last week launched a concerted diplomatic assault on the tiny but wealthy Gulf monarchy, saying they want the country to stop funding terrorist groups, cut ties with regional rival Iran and cease 'disrupting' the Middle East through the reporting of the influential state broadcaster, Al Jazeera.

The national airline, Qatar Airways, has been a specific target. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others have closed their airspace to the global carrier, cutting off key markets and causing long diversions of flights to Africa and southern Europe.

A report on the broadcaster Sky Italia said that wearers of Barcelona shirts in Saudi Arabia could be slapped with a $200,000 fine or even face a 15 year prison term. A Qatar Airways logo is displayed on the chest of shirts, although the sponsorship deal is reported to expire this month.

A Saudi blogger posted a picture on Twitter apparently of an advertisement in Saudi Arabia featuring players from the Spanish football team, in which the Qatari logos were covered up with white paper.

Qatar is a fast-growing player in the global aviation market, and along with its Emirati rivals Emirates and Etihad, has a number of sponsorships deals with iconic Western brands.   

Earlier this week, the United Arab Emirates notified its residents that expressing any form of support for Qatar on social media could also be punished with up to fifteen years in jail. 


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