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Barca have signed a mammoth new sponsorship deal and are considering a naming-rights deal for a potential new stadium; Arsenal's time is up and Fifa steps up its doping fight

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By Peter Staunton

In defence of Barca's corporate future


First it was Unicef, then the Qatar Foundation, now it's Qatar Airways that adorns the shirt. That process helped fans become accustomed to the sight of a sponsor on their team's famous kit as Barcelona took steps towards becoming a corporate monster to rival Real Madrid. Barca have gone a step further this week. Against Villarreal, they will take to the field with a new sponsor on the inside, as well as the outside of their famous stripes.

Intel, the US chipmaker, paid around €18 million for the deal, according to Forbes magazine, and will provide technology to the club and staff as part of the package. There is no guarantee that the logo will even be seen on television as the company is relying upon individual players to lift their shirts in order to display it.

The deal brings the total number of main partners, premium partners, official partners and regional partners involved with Barcelona to 27.

The fact of the matter is that Barcelona have had to trade their traditional image for cold, hard currency. Without it, they would have no chance of competing with Real Madrid in Spain as well as the likes of Manchester United and Bayern Munich in Europe.

Talent like Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Neymar does not come cheaply. Barcelona, according to the LFP, pay around €200m per season in wages and are reputed to be the highest-paying sports team in the world. That money has to come from somewhere.

It's come from the corporate sector. By the end of the 2011-12 season, Barcelona's commercial revenue surged by €30.6m, according to the Deloitte Money League, to €186.9m.

Now, Barcelona fans are about to contemplate another reality altogether with the news that the club are considering a move from their sacred Camp Nou home. Currently, the club are debating whether to expand the stadium or move to a plot of land owned by the University of Barcelona, to a stadium with a 105,000 capacity and a roof.

The Blaugrana also admitted that they would be willing to sell off part of the naming rights to the stadium in order to facilitate the move. Qatar Airways Camp Nou anyone?

"The majority of the board does not want to completely sell the naming rights of the stadium," Javier Faus, Barcelona's head of business said this week. "Adding a last name is the lesser of two evils. We could generate around €100m, but these contracts have a duration of 25 years."

The evolution of Barcelona from outsiders and Catalan symbols of defiance to gigantic corporate entity is almost complete. But there will be no decrying of the loss of their heritage from these quarters - like any other business they are doing what they must to survive.

Arsenal about to crumble


Arsenal will fall away in the race for the Premier League title as they face a gruelling trip to the Etihad Stadium this Saturday lunchtime. The time is upon them to prove their credentials and show they have the stomach for the battles ahead. But the Gunners are teetering.

Although they are five points clear at the top, nobody genuinely expects them to hold that position come the end of the season. And given City's home form, that lead will be eaten into this weekend if Arsenal come up short.

They are on a poor run of form, all things considered, after failing to beat Everton and being relegated to second place in their Champions League group. Those matches were chances for Arsene Wenger's team to show their capabilities to lead from the front and establish themselves as contenders. They failed on both counts.

What we are about to see now is Arsenal's bright league start diminished. They were lucky in the sense that they did not have to play the Premier League's better sides while rivals took points off each other early in the season. Their one big test, a visit to Old Trafford, resulted in failure.

Simply, Arsenal are not strong enough to win the Premier League and already the excuses are being made. Wenger and Mikel Arteta are complaining about the scheduling of the City game, ignoring that the television company which sets kick-off times is the same one which provides them with a good deal of their income. You can't have it both ways.

After Saturday, Arsenal will be no closer to winning the Premier League title and will be shunted into the category of also-rans, despite still being top of the league.

Fifa steps up anti-doping efforts


Fifa announced this week that all clubs competing at the 2013 Club World Cup in Morocco were visited unannounced by its anti-doping testers ahead of the start of the tournament. Between November 1 and December 10, 174 players from clubs like Bayern Munich and Atletico Mineiro had blood and urine samples taken.

The testers were continuing the process of creating Athlete Biological Passports for elite players ahead of next summer's World Cup. Before the big kick-off in Brazil, Fifa intends to conduct around 900 such tests.

An Athlete Biological Passport establishes the haematological parameters of an athlete's blood and the steroid profile of his urine. By measuring a player's levels, it makes it easier for testers to flag inconsistencies in future tests in the search for performance-enhancing drugs.

The Athlete Biological Passport has not been a widely-used tool in football but Fifa, in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Authority (Wada) code, has stepped up its efforts in recent years.

Fifa intends to use the biological passport as its standard practice in its anti-doping fight in the future. Every player who features at next summer's World Cup in Brazil will have a profile by the time the tournament starts.

A pilot scheme was launched for the Club World Cup in Japan in 2011 and continued last year through the Confederations Cup, where a Tahiti player was suspended following an adverse analytical finding.

"It’s both a remarkable weapon in the fight against doping and an important tool for following the health of players," said David Howman, the Wada director general, said last year.

It's a positive step for Fifa, whose own anti-doping strategies have been called into question. Rio de Janeiro's anti-doping laboratory lost its Wada accreditation in August, meaning all samples taken at the World Cup will be flown halfway round the world to Switzerland for testing next summer.

It was also revealed this year that Fifa conducted only four out-of-competition blood tests in the whole of 2012. Onwards and upward for Fifa's anti-doping team.

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