If Bill Gates, the Microsoft guy, doesn’t strike you as a big soccer fan, well, you’re right. He’s not. But he is a big supporter of platforms with large audiences. So when his advisors at the foundation created by him and his wife suggested forging a partnership with FC Barcelona to raise awareness about polio, Gates took a keen interest in soccer.
“I have to admit, for me, I didn’t know enough,” he told the Insider during a 10-minute interview that also included Barcelona President Sandro Rosell. “I had heard of the club. I had heard of Manchester United. I’m not an expert on it.”
After months of discussions, two of the world’s most recognizable names, Gates and Barcelona, agreed to a three-year joint effort to lead the fight to end polio and draw attention to the need for vaccines. The partnership was formally introduced during a news conference Thursday at the Newseum in Washington. Gates and Rosell were joined by Barcelona Manager Pep Guardiola and players Andres Iniesta and Seydou Keita. Mia Hamm, who has a worthy cause of her own, was in attendance, as well.
Watch the sharp video and then keep reading for Gates’s thoughts on Barcelona, his family’s reaction to his involvement with Barca and his mention of the Seattle Sounders.....
In his introductory speech, Gates said: “They stand for so much more than just being great at their sport. Worldwide, not just millions, but hundreds of millions know who they are, and if we can enlist them to remind people that we still have some work to do [fighting polio], that would be an incredible thing.
“I hope this is the start of a long partnership, but polio is the immediate goal here and this is a huge milestone for that fight.”
Although it has been eradicated in most countries, polio remains a problem in places such as Nigeria, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.
The Gates foundation, with an endowment of $37 billion, targeted Barcelona to join the education campaign because of the club ’s enormous following worldwide. Barca plans to engage supporters through social media — it has 18 million Facebook fans — post in-stadium advertising and make announcements on matchdays.
The campaign is called “More Than a Goal. End Polio” — a play on Barcelona’s motto, “More Than a Club.”
Barcelona is well known for its humanitarian efforts, partnering with UNICEF and promoting educational and cultural initiatives.
In our conversation, Gates told me: “In the U.S., when we think of sports teams, we certainly know examples that are more about excess than they are about values and helping the world. It’s actually quite impressive that Barcelona has always had this view of being involved in more than just the sport and being willing to use their success. The timing for us in terms of getting this visibility is amazing. They’re doing mind-blowingly well. The individual people do stand the test when you look at whether this is just the club or the players. Is this really the way they think about things? It rings true.”
Gates said he won’t be able to attend Saturday’s match against Manchester United at FedEx Field but hopes to visit Camp Nou Stadium in the near future. In the process of forming the partnership, Gates said he has learned more about soccer.
When he told nieces and nephews that he was working with Barcelona, they reacted by saying: “ ‘No, you are kidding!’ They almost never say that. I have a phone call with the president of a country and they say, ‘Oh, big deal.’ And then they said, ‘Why do YOU get to see FC Barcelona?’ I’ve got some extra jerseys to bring back.”
A resident of the Seattle area, Gates has taken notice of the MLS’s Sounders as well.
“When I was young, other than Pele, the visibility of soccer was low,” he said. “The Sounders have a pretty good community and it’s definitely building. It’s good to see that, but it’s nothing like other countries – yet.”