Whether it’s FIFA officials allegedly being paid off to hand the 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Qatar, or football’s governing bodies continuing to change club ownership rules in a bid to allow questionable consortiums into the sport, the beautiful game’s reputation continues to be tarnished by allegations of corruption.
And what’s happening in Spanish football right now is on a par with Italy’s infamous Calciopoli scandal in the 2000s, where ‘favourable’ referees were handpicked to officiate games involving the likes of Juventus, who were later stripped of their Serie A title and relegated to Serie B.
Given that Juventus, arguably Italy’s most famous football club, were demoted for their part in that corruption will have supporters of Barcelona feeling rather nervous for the future after their club was embroiled in a scandal that allegedly saw them pay millions to a company owned by a chief of the La Liga referees committee.
This is one corruption scandal you’ll want to get the popcorn ready for….
What Have Barcelona Done Now?
When not getting creative with their accounts and signing players on mind-boggling contracts despite being riddled with debt, Barcelona have allegedly been making payments of a different kind.
In March 2023, the Catalan club was charged with corruption over payments totalling £6.4 million to businesses owned by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, who is the former vice-president of Spain’s referees’ committee.
The imposition is that Negreira would select referees that would be more lenient towards Barca and stricter against their opponents – these are the allegations made.
The club as a whole, as well as Negreira and former Barcelona presidents Sandro Rosell and Josip Maria Bartomeu, will now face a day in court charged with corruption in sports, unfair administration and falsification of documents.
Barcelona haven’t said a huge deal about the investigation, although they have claimed that the payments were made in receipt of ‘technical reports’ into professional refereeing standards.
The spokesperson also dismissed the legal action, declaring it to be nothing more than an ‘absolutely preliminary investigative hypothesis.’
Spanish anti-corruption prosecutors have now lodged their complaint within the courts system, and a full investigation – which could lead to criminal or civil charges – will follow.
Their indictment accuses Rosell and Bartomeu of making the payments to Negreira and in return he would ‘he would carry out actions aimed at favouring Barca in the decision-making of the referees in the matches played by the club and thus in the results of the competitions.’
Joan Laporta, the current president of Barcelona, will also be forced to testify as he served a former term as president between 2003 and 2010, which overlaps with the timeline of the allegations made.
Fans of other clubs have already made their feelings known. Athletic Bilbao supporters threw fake bank notes onto the pitch when their side took on Barcelona in March.
Will Barcelona Be Relegated Over the Refereeing Scandal?
Given the legal precedent set by Serie A and the Italian FA two decades ago, you might think that Barcelona could be heading for deep water too.
However, they may just get away with it….
The president of La Liga, Javier Tebas, has suggested that he cannot punish Barcelona with a ‘sporting sanction’, i.e. a points deduction or forced relegation, because too much time has passed before the investigation got underway.
But he’s also confirmed that FIFA and UEFA have asked for more information on the case, which suggests there could possibly be some ramifications to come from a continental perspective.
The situation could get even messier if other La Liga clubs join Real Madrid in adding their weight to the legal action. If Barcelona are ruled to have benefitted from agreeable refereeing, than it’s not unlikely that their opponents in Spain’s top league will sue accordingly.
Tebas has said that he is ‘ashamed’ at the corruption scandal and described it as the ‘worst reputational crisis’ in La Liga’s long and storied history.
“I feel ashamed that we still don’t have a convincing explanation from them,” he said.
“In fact, we have no explanation whatsoever from Barcelona and this is going to take time to resolve.
“There are payments that were made and that is something that Barcelona have acknowledged. This is abnormal. We are not only risking Barca’s reputation but that of the competition.”
For now, both La Liga and the Spanish Football Federation are waiting to see the outcome of the criminal proceedings before embarking on their own next course of action.
Whatever happens, the reputation of one of Europe’s top leagues has been tarnished once again.