Barcelona denied a possible conflict of interest on Wednesday for having made payments for technical reports on referees to a company that belonged to the vice president of the refereeing committee in Spain.
The payments for information on how referees officiate were made from 2016-18 and totaled 1.4 million euros ($1.5 million), according to radio station SER Catalunya. The station said the company hired by Barcelona belonged to former referee José María Enríquez Negreira, who was a part of the Spanish soccer federation’s refereeing committee from 1994-2018. The payments are under investigation as part of a tax probe into the company.
The Spanish federation noted that Enríquez Negreira left the committee after the new administration took over in 2018.
“The refereeing committee regrets behavior that could be considered unethical,” the federation said in a statement. “No active referee or member of the committee can participate in work that could be considered a conflict of interest.”
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Enríquez Negreira told SER he never favored Barcelona while assigning referees to matches, and that his job was only to aid the club verbally about how players should conduct themselves before each referee.
Getting reports on referees is common practice and clubs can pay other companies or have them prepared internally. It’s not known if other clubs also got them from the company of the former referee.
Barcelona said the “technical reports related to professional refereeing" and were ordered “in order to complement the information requested by the first and second team coaching staff.”
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The club said reviewing reports on referees is "a common practice among professional football clubs.” They are currently prepared internally at Barcelona instead of being outsourced, the club said.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta said the news about the payments was released now to try to destabilize the team’s good run. The Catalan club will go for its 12th win in a row in all competitions when it hosts Manchester United in the Europa League on Thursday.
“Barcelona is sorry that this information has been released precisely when the team has hit its best form of the season,” the club said. “Barcelona shall be taking legal actions against those who are trying to tarnish the club’s image with possible insinuations against its good reputation that could be caused by the release of such information.”
Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez also defended the club.
“We always analyze the referees, we want to know who is refereeing, if they are communicative or not,” he said. “It’s been like that for years. It’s not new.”