More than just a club

Fun and football... The president of FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta, shows his ball skills.-PICS: DASARI NAGAPPA

FC Barcelona, one of the most popular football clubs in the world, is not only about football. It is also actively involved in promoting UNICEF and welfare programmes like ’No More Malaria’. The club’s president, Joan Laporta I Estruch, speaks to A. Joseph Antony about Barca’s challenges and its future.

Joan Laporta I Estruch, the president of FC Barcelona — the largest multi-sport club in the world — has sought to give new meaning to the over century old institution’s motto ‘More than just a club.’

To fulfil its social responsibilities as an all-embracing entity without distinctions of colour, caste or creed, FC Barcelona has embarked on the Xarxa Internacional de Centres (XICS) programme. Translating to International Network of Solidarity Centres, the club has its units in nine countries on four continents catering to 1400 children.

Laporta was in Bathalapalli, near Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh, recently to formally inaugurate the FC Barcelona Academy, which is the first in Asia but has been functioning for a year now. He also laid the foundation stone for a branch of the academy at Atmakur. Both ventures are partnered by the Rural Development Trust (RDT), an Anantapur-based NGO.

Energetic and enthusiastic right from the time he arrived in India, Laporta, chaperoned by hustling media managers, spoke to Sportstar on what makes Barca among the best in the business.

On his achievements after taking over as the president of FC Barcelona:

Barca won the Spanish League twice, the Champions League and the Super Cup. Heavily in debt to banks until then, we registered a 37% rise in revenue in the first year alone, against the industry average of between 10% and 22%. The revenue now stands at euro 380 million, with euro 103 million being the profit over a five-year period. In the early days of our tenure, we were considered a mistake of the system for relying too much on youth.

The biggest challenge he’s faced in two terms as president:

With constant pressure, every day is a challenge. As pioneers in carrying out social corporate responsibilities, we have also to maintain sustainable profits. To defend Barca is a 24x7 job, 365 days of the year.

On the agreement with UNICEF:

We had a commercial offer of euro 22 million for the front of our team shirt each season for five years. Instead we chose to fork out euro 1.5 million to UNICEF every season and promote it on our attire.

On Barca’s association with ‘No More Malaria’:

The club, along with the said movement and the American Youth Soccer Organisation (AYSO), has distributed 10,000 mosquito nets in Africa. On March 24, the second phase begins in Mali.

Joan Laporta with the students of the academy funded by Barca at Bathalapalli in Anantapur District, Andhra Pradesh.-

On curbing violence at Camp Nou, the club’s stadium which is the biggest in Europe:

It’s not enough to make statements, but one needs to act against violence. For us, it’s zero tolerance against violence. We identify trouble makers and restrict their entry into the stadium. Electronic surveillance and cooperation with the police take care of the rest.

On the burgeoning fan base amidst Spain’s increased sporting success (eg. Nadal in tennis, world champion in basketball):

We focus on the youth, who constitute more than 50 per cent of the first team. We are open about our fight against racism, violence and corruption, which has earned us respect. Our efforts to help the marginalised have seen our club membership grow to 165,000 along with a 100 million fans worldwide.

On huge crowd attendance for Barca’s matches:

Our quality of football, fast and attacking, brings in the crowd. Typical of our fiercely independent Catalonian psyche (that saw the province oppose the Fascist General Franco), we don’t speculate but ensure ball control. With our open approach to social integration, even foreigners find acceptance with us.

On spectator facilities at Camp Nou:

We invest every year to improve amenities that make spectators comfortable and help us crack down on violence for their safety.

On facilities for members:

We have the blueprint ready to open the Barca resort, located close to Barcelona airport and the Mediterranean Sea. It’s awaiting government approval. We propose to make stay for our members and their families free for a week. We hope to replicate this model in Miami and Dubai considering our growing international fan base.

On celebrities in the side and the difficulties in managing them:

Our coach and manager inculcate team spirit, that’s paramount to us. We have greats such as Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o, Dani Alves and Hristo Stoichkov. Sixteen internationals in all, but each team member is important to us. Our game sets us apart, the ball recovery in rival territory being instant.

The future:

While retaining our Catalan identity, as open as our immediate neighbour France or the Mediterranean that our region borders, we wish to make Barca global, going perhaps to China someday as we have come to India.