Spanish soccer heavyweight Real Madrid dropped the Christian cross affixed at the top of its official crest after signing a lucrative sponsorship deal with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. At an unveiling ceremony in the Gulf emirate earlier this week, the club's president, Florentino Perez, revealed a new credit card sponsored by the bank, which doubles as a Real Madrid club membership card. On the card, the club's iconic "Los Blancos" badge is missing the cross atop its royal crown.
Its absence is seen as a gesture to placate Muslim fans in the region, according to Spanish sports daily Marca. Outside the U.A.E., the club crest has not been altered.
Perez said the partnership with the Abu Dhabi bank symbolized for Real Madrid a "strategic alliance with one of the most prestigious institutions in the world."
Real Madrid, one of Europe's most well-known and decorated soccer clubs, has a rich, deep history. It emerged after the horrors of the Spanish Civil War as the club of the establishment, unabashed by its monarchist pedigree and favored by the fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Its rivalry with FC Barcelona, a club that to this day sees itself as a vehicle of Catalan nationalism, is legendary.
But in the gaudy, lucrative age of 21st century globalized soccer, Spain's leading soccer clubs, like those in England, have long been unmoored from their roots, eager to cash in on far-flung markets and new audiences.
"I know that local people experience every match in a special way and that our links with the U.A.E. are constantly growing stronger," Perez said in an earlier visit. "[The new sponsorship deal] will help the club keep conquering the hearts of followers in the United Arab Emirates."
Real Madrid is hardly alone in such ventures. Its arch-nemesis recently debuted a new commercial with its jersey sponsor Qatar Airways (embedded above) that depicts a visit to the "land of FC Barcelona" -- an invented world of skyscrapers and cosmopolitan jet-setters devoid of any sense of real place or context. It's an echo of how many oil-rich Gulf states present themselves as luxury destinations for Western business elites. And it's a clear expression of the new globe-trotting corporatism that defines the world's most popular sport today.