Posted on December 2012.
This could be you! Or could it?
One of the things that makes BFB so special is the level of discussion in this space. We can debate issues of importance to the club or to football in general respectfully, without it degenerating into a simple back-and-forth of which side is more wrong. Recently a few of the mods were involved in a discussion on twitter about whether FCB membership should be open to all who want it or if the club’s current policy of restricting membership has some merit. Not surprisingly, there were some strong differences of opinion on the subject. Today I would like to present the case for one side of the debate (with thanks to nzm for her contributions and suggestions!) . Afterwards some of the other mods will present the opposite view. We hope this will generate some interesting discussion and look forward to reading your thoughts as well.
When Rosell was elected club president, one of the first things he did was to change the official club policy regarding who was eligible to become a soci. Previously membership had been open to anyone who was willing to pay the fees, and socis had the same rights and privileges no matter where they lived, including the chance to be a delegate at the General Assembly and to vote in presidential elections. Rosell’s board passed a resolution restricting new memberships to a) children under 16, or b) relatives in the first- or second-degree to existing socis. You can find details here.
As you can imagine, when the board brought in these new restrictions, there was quite a reaction. Some saw it as a sensible measure brought in to preserve the essential character of the club in reaction to the ballooning number of foreign members that characterized the Laporta years. Others were outraged at what was seen as an elitist and xenophobic policy. Even many Catalans were disturbed that those who live there but happen not to be related to any current members would be ineligible. In reaction to this (or possibly as had been planned all along?), the Board of Directors quietly introduced a plan whereby eligible adults (even foreign ones!) could still qualify for membership after showing showing “commitment” to the club for a period of three years. Details on the “commitment card” can be found here.
The important points to note about the Commitment Card are that holders do not have voting rights, preferential access to tickets, or the chance to get on the waiting list for season tickets. Also, after the three years they do not automatically become members. The holder must make an official application, which “the Club will consider in line with general requirements laid down in the Club statutes.” In other words, he or she could still be rejected, although no ones knows on what basis that could happen, since the card has only been in existence for 2 years. It will be interesting to see what will happen if the club starts taking people’s money for three years and then turning them down as members, but we will have to wait and see.
So what do I think about all this? While I disagree with the way Rosell and his Board of Directors have gone about it, I understand the impetus behind this policy and in principle I agree with it. I don’t believe that all supporters of FC Barcelona should automatically have the right to become members. I believe that membership should be reserved for those who have roots in the community that Barça represents. That doesn’t mean that membership should be restricted to only Catalans, or even Spaniards, but to those whose daily lives are intertwined with the club, the city, the locality, & the culture. It seems strange to me that someone who may never even have visited Barcelona or ever be able to should have the “right” to vote for the club’s President. Or the chance to be chosen as a delegate to the General Assembly–which they may then have to turn down if not able to travel there. Even if they are able to attend, should someone in Buenos Aires, or Moscow, or Chicago have the “right” to vote on the daily matters of the club? I don’t smoke, and I would have voted in favour of making Camp Nou smoke-free, but is that my call? I’ve never been to a match there, and I don’t know when I will able to afford to go. Should my vote then carry equal weight to that of someone who regularly attends games?
Football has become a global sport, and FC Barcelona has become one of the clubs with the most global appeal, if not the most. People all over the world are enchanted with the way this club plays, with the brilliance of its players, and with the glimmer of the trophies it has won. Many of us have been so inspired by this club that we have researched its history, internalized its values, immersed ourselves in its culture, and even learned the language of its country. Is it any wonder that we want to formalize the connection we feel with Barça by becoming part of it? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But we must also remember that Barça is not just a football club. It is “mes que un club”. From the very beginning Barça has had a “permanent tradition of loyalty and service to club members, citizens and Catalonia” which leads it to be active in social, cultural, artistic, and political spheres. This club has history, it has gravitas, it has Catalanisme. We all know (or should know) what the club meant to Catalans and Catalunya during the Franco years, but with all the knowledge and all the love in the world, I don’t believe it is really possible for someone not steeped in that experience to really understand it. Similarly, can someone not living in the area really understand the impact that changes to the stadium, the training facilities, the sporting infrastructure would have on the neighbourhood, city, or region? I don’t think they can. I truly believe I love the club as much as any long-term soci could, but I don’t believe that I, as an outsider, have the “right” to vote on these things just because the club might take my money.
So what is the answer?
No solution is going to please everybody. There will always be those who believe that full membership should be open to anyone anywhere, and those who want it restricted to those who are Catalan unto the 10th generation. Ultimately I think the best compromise would be a two-tiered membership system, but not the way the club has it currently set up. The Commitment Card seems to me like a mean-spirited cash grab without conferring any real benefits until after the 3-year “probation” period has been completed, whereupon the club will “consider” your membership application. It’s demeaning, cynical, and does not address the problems inherent with non-local members having voting rights.
Instead I would prefer a system where a “Cule” membership is open to anyone regardless of location. This type of membership would offer access to deals on tickets, discounts at the botiga and the online store, entrance to the Camp Nou museum, and access to special “members-only” online content, apps, ect. In other words, all the current perks of membership except for the voting rights. A “Club” membership, with the voting rights and eligibility for the season-ticket waiting list, would be available to permanent residents of Catalunya, regardless of citizenship. The applicant would have to prove residency of Catalunya for a period of, for example, 3 years, or 5 years OR that they are related to a current soci (similar to the current eligibility regulations).
I hate to say it, but this is an area where Real Madrid is already ahead of Barça. Although eligibility to become an actual socio of Real Madrid is even more restricted than at Barça (next to impossible if you are not a direct descendant of a current socio), the club already offers two other levels of membership, “Madridista” and “Madridista Internacional” that entitle the holder to various benefits and discounts as well as online content, but without any voting rights or representation in the general meetings. Perhaps our tame Madridista, Bassam, can give us some insight on how this three-tiered system is viewed by Real Madrid fans?
What is clear is that Barcelona is behind the curve when it comes to keeping up with the times. To quote nzm:
“The whole Blaugrana organization really needs a shake-up to make it more modern. Their marketing sucks. They don’t even offer an electronic version of the club magazine which hits our letterbox every 2 months – now that would save on colour copies, no? ;.)
FCB needs to shake up its practices when dealing with the fanbase and bring some more modern approaches into their business model. All they’re really doing at the moment is opening up new fanbases (Asia and Middle East) but not changing the archaic systems. When trying to appeal to younger members and a younger fanbase (which is where the growth will occur), their approach isn’t that attractive to that demographic.”
FCB was taken by surprise by the huge influx of foreign members, and in scrambling to protect the cultural heritage of the club, they have managed to offend and alienate just about everybody. I believe they need to take a different approach that more fully addresses the needs of their global fanbase, while ensuring that the club remains firmly rooted in the local community it represents. I fully expect that this point-of-view will be unpopular in this space, but I truly think a two-tiered system of membership would be the fairest way to solve this conundrum.
And here is Kxevin with an opposing view:
For this soci, it’s simple: If FC Barcelona is in any way to be a closed society, then close it for real. Don’t bother with socis, supplemental members, commitment cards or any other such bollocks. Put the club out there as a closed entity that supporters can choose and become a fan of. Done.
But if it IS going to be a “club” that people can join, to parse devotion in any way is so much bullshit. The implication is that because a soci lives in New York, for example, he isn’t bothered every bit as much by who will be the next president of the club that he loves as a soci who lives in Perpignan or L’Hospitalet. If the club matters to them … all of them, then all socis should be the same.
I can see offering a choice of membership levels, from “Hey, I dig this club” to a full-monty soci that includes voting rights. People can then choose the level they wish, *not the club.* I can’t see or countenance someone telling foreign socis that just because the Camp Nou isn’t in their backyard and they can’t attend matches regularly, that they should be some sort of a second-class citizen. Raise the price of the full soci status, require a Catalan language test, I don’t care. People who want that level of commitment to the club, should have access to it. Period.
There are many kinds of socis, even in Barcelona. There are foreign socis who just love the club, and will never do anything beyond that. There are also foreign socis who visit the city, attend matches and even learn the
language. They follow the club’s politics and are every bit as concerned by what the club does and who runs it as anyone else.
But let’s be clear about this: FC Barcelona is a global entity that offers up sporting teams in many different disciplines, the most popular of which is football. That’s the way that it has always been. When that club was crowing about being the only club “owned” by its members, it was without caveats. Now that the barn door is open, so to speak, and those silly furriners want to show the same love and devotion to the club as any other soci, it’s becoming a contextual problem.
I consider that to be the profoundest nonsense. And as a black person and citizen of a country whose constitution for too many years said that I and my kind were but 3/5ths of a person, with no voting rights or very many rights at all because of that status, my views of “citizenship” and “membership” are shaped by that worldview. You’re in or you’re out*. Citizens
vote for this country’s president, whether their family has been American for generations, or just swore the loyalty oath to America.
As a sporting entity, does FC Barcelona represent something different to a supporter in Dubai as opposed to one who lives IN Barcelona? Both live and die with the club. Attending a match might mean even more to the soci in Dubai, who holds it up as a dream, than one who has a season ticket but rarely attends matches, like so many season ticket holders.
Deeper still, as a global sporting entity, FC Barcelona needs to figure out what it wants to be. If it wants to be Athletic Bilbao, then that’s fine. Dump all foreign socis, restrict it to Catalans only and circle the wagons at the social club. It won’t lose very many fans, even as it sows ill will among foreign socis, the critters who if you ask some, shouldn’t matter anyhow.
But if FC Barcelona wants to be a participant in the world with its multi-national conglomerate, then let the world in, up to and including foreign socis.
People misconstrue the “mes que un club” business as some sort of pious thing. In fact, it speaks to the tentacles that the club has sprouted, its deep roots in the community and its extra meaning to not only Catalans, but people who understand the before and after of the Civil War period. It was the only place that Catalans could be Catalan, and it only makes sense that
in this nationalist fervor, some should want to “reclaim” the club, shaping it into some sort of “for us, by us” deal.
Which, for an organization started by a Swiss businessman in company with English and Catalan athletes, is a pretty slick trick.
Now lets hear your views. Do you have a strong opinion either way? Or do you have a different solution to propose?