Real Madrid remove cross from club crest in Middle Eastern clothing deal
Real Madrid's commercial partners in six Middle Eastern countries are to use a version of the club's crest without the Christian cross.
Official Madrid brand products including T-shirts and swimwear for the Gulf market manufactured, distributed and sold by partner company Marka, are to feature a minor change to the usual club badge -- with a small cross at the top of a crown being removed.
"We have to be sensitive towards other parts of the gulf that are quite sensitive to products that hold the cross," Marka's vice chairman Khaled al-Mheiri, who is also the owner of a Real Madrid cafe in Dubai, told Reuters when asked to explain why the change was being made.
El Mundo reports that the deal between Madrid and Marka is worth €50 million over five years. The countries involved are United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.
Former Real Madrid defender Fernando Sanz, who is now based in Dubai in his role as La Liga's General Director Middle East & North Africa and Head of International Sport Projects, played down the significance of the policy.
"Nobody in the media here, or the papers, has been talking about the cross on Real Madrid's badge," he told ESPN FC. "It would be a question for Real Madrid.
"Football is something global, it has nothing to do with politics, it is a sport. We are selling a product here that everyone is proud of.
"Spanish football is the most followed, by a long way. Spanish clubs now have practically the same number of fans inside and outside of Spain. So you must know the place you are, the customs, and the ways to show respect. Which is what is done. Spanish teams have fans in all the countries of the world, among all the religions of the world."
Official Madrid jerseys are not covered by the deal, and all shirts sold in the region will continue to have the same crest featuring the cross as is available in other markets around the globe.
Madrid have come to similar culturally sensitive arrangements with other commercial partners in Muslim-majority countries in the past. For example, since 2014, customers of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi can receive a Real Madrid branded credit card on which the cross does not appear.
The Liga giants also have other deals with large Gulf-based companies. Dubai-based Emirates Airlines is its current shirt sponsor, while International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC) is providing €400m in funding for a remodelling of its Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, a deal which will involve the Abu-Dhabi government owned company adding a "surname" to the historic ground.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan