05.07.2015 - 16:41
Actualització: 22.07.2015 - 18:43
FC Barcelona’s elections, planned for next 18 July, are an open battle between two of its former presidents: Josep Maria Bartomeu, and Joan Laporta, but Agustí Benedito may also end up a close contender.
Aside from the other four pre-candidates, some of whom will probably not obtain the necessary signatures to vie for the role of president, polls point to a neck-to-neck race between Laporta and Bartomeu. Each represents two very different notions of how the club should evolve over the next four years. In Bartomeu’s favour are Barcelona’s three titles this past season (La Liga, the Champions League, and the Copa del Rey), as well as an ambitious pet project known as Barça Space. But, on the other hand, he is weighed down by a lawsuit against him in the so-called “Neymar affair”, for which he will stand trial alongside Sandro Rosell.
Laporta, the other favourite, wants to return to the helm in order to reinstate the club’s previous Catalan nationalist spirit and give greater prominence to the Masia, Barça’s renowned youth academy, which developed talents such as Xavi, Messi, and Iniesta, among others.
The third strongest contender is Agustí Benedito, who is nevertheless not a favourite in straw polls. However, his commitment and strong involvement within Barça fan groups, as well as the fact that he was the second most voted candidate in the 2010 elections, means he should not be discounted. Benedito wants the club to break ties with Qatar, Barça’s sponsor and lend its support to Catalonia’s independence push.
UNICEF and Qatar
UNICEF and Qatar symbolise each candidate’s philosophy and provide a very clear idea of the economic policy each favours. Joan Laporta was the driving force behind the emblazoning of the UNICEF logo on Barça jerseys in 2007, and, if elected, his intention is to recover that relationship. Under Laporta’s leadership, Barça contributed 0.7% of its revenue to UNICEF in exchange for carrying its logo on the club’s jersey. The move was applauded internationally and served to reinforce the motto of being ‘more than a club’ that has always characterized FC Barcelona. ‘We want to promote a model for our club that shows sensitivity toward the welfare of others, especially children”, said Laporta during this pre-campaign season.
Sandro Rosell and, later, Josep Maria Bartomeu, have stated that they would favour a club policy emphasizing financial gain. This priority led them in 2011 to sign a multi-million euro agreement with Qatar Sports Investment, which turned Qatar Airways into FB Barcelona’s main sponsor. As a result, the club has enjoyed revenues of thirty million euros per season, but this decision has been somewhat controversial among fans, many of who regard the ad space on player’s jersey’s as quasi-sacred and are against money being accepted from a country that does not uphold human rights. Bartomeu, however, argues that this is the best offer the club has received and has said that ‘it poses not ethical conflict’.
Agustí Benedito is closer to Laporta’s position and has expressed opposition to renewing ties with Qatar. Benedito has criticized the values such an association represents and the merely financial nature of the deal, and has suggested that the club consider other good offers in order to change the main sponsor whose logo will be emblazoned on the club’s jersey.
A commitment to independence
Viewpoints also differ regarding the club’s undeniable Catalan nationalist tradition. Laporta is clearly pro-independence. He has just spent a few years in politics, including stints as a member of the Catalan parliament and as a Barcelona City Hall councilmember. He wants Barça to be involved in promoting the separatist cause and has declared his intention to find a way to link the club to the present historic moment for the Catalan nation.
Benedito, an avowed separatist, does not go as far as that. He wants the club to support the right to decide the nation’s political future, but he is not in favour of actively involving the club in the process. Bartomeu wants to stay completely above the fray, as Sandro had before him, and he does not want to risk losing any votes. His objectives, as stated in his electoral program, are ‘to continue to be an independent club, economically, politically, and as far as the media is concerned’.
Barça Space and The Masia: the electoral weapons
Without a doubt, Josep Maria Bartomeu’s electoral weapon in this election is the Barça Space, a project to remodel the Camp Nou stadium and its surroundings, including the sports facilities of Palau Blaugrana. This six-hundred-million euro urban and sports development would be ready by 2021 and has already been given the green light by club members who voted on it in a referendum in April 2014. While stopping short of repudiating the project, Laporta has said that he would first seek to obtain the go-ahead from city authorities.
Meanwhile, Laporta’s best card is his ability to surround himself by well-known personalities from the club’s recent past. Éric Abidal, Roger Grimau, Enric Masip, and other former players have endorsed his candidacy. The latest to do so has been Barça’s iconic former coach, Johan Cruyff.
Laporta’s main goal is to breathe new life into the Masia in order to turn it into the main pillar of his vision for the club, and to re-enact the winning formulas implemented by Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, his greatest supporters.
Benedito, for his part, also believes that the club’s youth teams need another management model. He wants for them to again become the principal suppliers of players for the first division team, and one of his goals is for the principal youth team to return to first division, after being knocked down to second division this season.
The following are mini profiles of the major pre-candidates vying for the post of club president:
Josep Maria Bartomeu
Slogan: ‘Good for Barça’
Pre-candidate profile: Former FC Barcelona president (2014-2015) and vice president (2010-2014). He holds a degree in Business Administration and is the CEO of Adelte Gropu and EFS.
Slogan: ‘Everything for Barça’
Pre-candidate profile: A former FC Barcelona president (2003-2010), he later went into politics, becoming a member of the Catalan parliament and a Barcelona City Hall councilmember. He holds a law degree.
Slogan: ‘Now is the time. Let’s do it together!’
Pre-candidate profile: He has long been active within FB Barcelona fan clubs. He was a founder of Elefant Blau, a group founded in the 90s to denounce the management style of the then-president José Luis Núñez. He ran for the 2010 elections and came in second, behind Sandro Rosell. He is a businessman.
Slogan: ‘We know the game’
Pre-candidate profile: Secretary of the Board and club spokesman under Sandro Rosell, and, together with Josep Maria Bartomeu, current president of the Disciplinary Commission. He is an attorney.
Slogan: ‘Your Barça’
Pre-candidate profile: He ran for club president in 2003 and came in third, behind Joan Laporta and Lluis Bassat. He is an agricultural entrepreneur.
Slogan: ‘We are normal people’
Pre-candidate profile: Bachelor of Systems Engineering. He is an entrepreneur and the founder of Geek Group.
Slogan: ‘FCB Lotto Results’
Pre-candidate profile: He manages a Facebook group that gives updated results for the match ticket and airplane ticket lottery for fans to travel to see Barça play away from home. His program has two main points: the creation of a cheering section at the stadium and the establishment of a FC Barcelona-centred travel agency.