The spillover of religious intolerance from the Middle East into Europe was dramatically revealed today, as Spanish soccer giant Real Madrid unveiled an adjusted logo for inclusion on a brand new credit card issued by the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. The logo is exactly the same as the one the club has been using since 1931, minus one important detail – in order not to disturb Muslim sensibilities, the Christian cross which normally sits at the top has been removed.
The logo change, readily acceded to by the management of Real Madrid – the world’s wealthiest sports team, valued at nearly $3.5 billion – forms part of a three year “strategic alliance with one of the most prestigious institutions in the world,” as club President Florentino Pérez described the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. The importance the club attaches to the deal was demonstrated at a signing ceremony in September attended by some of the club’s top players, including Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, and Dani Carvajal.
At the September ceremony, Perez gushed, “I know that the local people experience every match in a special way and that our links with the UAE are constantly growing stronger. This agreement will help the club to keep conquering the hearts of followers in the United Arab Emirates.” Commenting on today’s appearance of the club logo without the cross, the leading Spanish soccer website Marca commented, “from the looks of things, the club is willing to compromise on aspects of its identity in pursuit of these new fans.”
Real Madrid’s decision to cave into Muslim religious intolerance comes at a time of growing concern for Christians in the Middle East, where Islamic State terrorists have massacred and ethnically cleansed ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria. While Abu Dhabi, the largest of the seven members of the United Arab Emirates (UAE,) is comparatively more tolerant, a recent State Department report highlighted several violations of international standards on religious freedom.
“The government prohibits proselytizing and the distribution of non-Islamic religious literature under penalty of criminal prosecution, imprisonment, and deportation,” the report observed. “The law prohibits churches from erecting bell towers or displaying crosses on the outside of their premises; however, the government does not always enforce this law, and some churches display crosses on their buildings.”
Real Madrid’s decision to drop the cross from its logo will likely not be the last change the club makes to appease its Gulf Arab backers. Under the terms of the September deal, the club now has the funds to expand its famed Bernabéu stadium, named after club legend Santiago Bernabéu, thanks to an agreement with the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC,) which is exclusively owned by the Abu Dhabi royal family.
In the process, however, the club is likely be compelled to change the name of the stadium to include a reference to Abu Dhabi, much to the chagrin of its Spanish fans. Under similar deals concluded with leading soccer clubs in England, stadiums have been named for Arab companies, among them the Emirates and Etihad airlines.
It is not yet clear whether the UAE will require Ronaldo, Real Madrid’s top striker, to change his Christian name – which is, appropriately, “Cristiano.”