The real reason why Barcelona is considering ending its Qatar shirt sponsorship

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Home kit shirt of FC Barcelona 2014-2015 during the friendly match between Napoli and FC Barcelona at Stade de Geneve on August 6, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)

Barcelona

Home kit shirt of FC Barcelona 2014-2015 during the friendly match between Napoli and FC Barcelona at Stade de Geneve on August 6, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)

Qatar just might be held accountable for its wretched track record on human rights by someone in the soccer world. The entity to demand that accountability, however, is an unlikely one: Barcelona.

For a long time, the Blaugranas were synonymous with decency. To many, they were a beacon of purity. They had their peerless academy delivering prodigies off a conveyor belt, symbolized the autonomy that Catalonia dreams of and donned jerseys free of sponsorship.

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After a century of having nothing written across their stomachs, Barcelona players were suddenly inscribed with UNICEF in 2006. In retrospect, that was a clever ploy by then-president Joan Laporta. It set a precedent of selling that real estate on the shirt even if Barca was actually paying the children's charity at the time. Sure enough, in 2010 the Qatar Foundation – which was then replaced by Qatar Airways – was signed up to take that space for some $200 million over five years by then-president Sandro Rosell.

In the meantime, Barca's reputation has lost a lot of its shine. Its two star players, Lionel Messi and Neymar, have gotten into ugly messes over dodged taxes and misreported transfer proceeds, respectively. And the club is currently serving out a long transfer ban for signing underage players against the rules.

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Now, current president Josep Maria Bartomeu has told a local radio station that the "social and political" situation in Qatar merits a reassessment of the club's partnership with the Gulf state's national airline, according to ESPN FC. The deal runs out next year.

As usual, there are political undercurrents to all of this. Bartomeu has called elections for October, after he ascended to the presidency when Rosell resigned over the Neymar scandal a year ago. His inherited term wasn't technically up until June 2016, but a club crisis – a forgettable run of form in early January and the sacking of Director of Football Andoni Zubizarreta – compelled him to move up the election.

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Bartomeu didn't sign the Qatar deal, so there is political capital to be had by leveraging its negative optics into some kind of "Clean up Barca's image" campaign. That seems to be exactly what he's doing.

Ultimately, any kind of scrutiny of Qatar and the human rights violations it is committing in the name of football – primarily by building stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup – is welcome. It's just that, whichever way you look at it, it looks hypocritical coming from Barcelona.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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