WASHINGTON — Barcelona took on what could be its toughest rival ever, teaming up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to try to eradicate polio.
Flanked by players Andres Iniesta and Seydou Keita, the club's manager Josep Guardiola and Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist Bill Gates on Thursday announced a three-year partnership against the crippling disease in Washington, with vaccination a key part of the fight.
"Just as football is a universal sport with the power to transform lives, vaccines are a universal tool with the power to save lives," Guardiola said.
The disease once crippled children worldwide and killed 350,000 children in 1988.
That was the year that a global effort was kicked off to try to make the disease only the second after smallpox to be eradicated, and today there are just four countries -- Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan -- where polio transmission has never been stopped.
"We have the chance to score a big win against polio, but we need loud and passionate voices to join the fight," Gates said at the launch.
"FC Barcelona's commitment to using sport for social good will help us rally support for vaccines and end polio once and for all," he said.
Barcelona will mobilize its fanbase, including 18 million Facebook fans, in the fight against polio.
"When fans yell 'Finish it!' it can be very powerful. We'd like to take that same energy and help finish polio once and for all," said Guardiola.
The partnership allows the Gates Foundation to use images and video of Barcelona to support polio awareness efforts.
The two parties will use their own financial resources to fund marketing and promotional activities and will not be compensated for their partnership efforts.
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