A Spanish referee has filed a complaint with local police, claiming that upon notice that he was to be selected as the line judge in next month’s Real Madrid-Barcelona match, his bosses made it clear that he was to make decisions in favor of the Madrid club.

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Here’s the Independent on what the ref, who at this point has decided to remain publicly anonymous for fear of reprisal, alleges went down:

It is understood that one of the pre-designated linesmen had been contacted by the match referee, and informed that the refereeing committee are pressuring him in to favouring Real with his decisions in their clash with fierce rivals Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu on 21 November.

The linesman has also reported Jose Angel Jimenez Munoz de Morales, a member of the referees’ committee, for allegedly contacting him directly to put extra pressure on the official to rule in Real’s favour.

The Spanish radio station COPE has acquired the ref’s complaint in its entirety, which you can read here (in Spanish). Barcelona sports daily Sport has pulled a couple key passages, which explain why the linesman specifically was targeted and further allege that this kind of referee corruption has been going on for awhile:

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Later, in the same document, it specificed [sic] that it’s the principle referee of the officiating team who called the assistant to say “it would be more convenient if the most difficult decisions in this game are not taken by the main referee, as it generates more controversy in the media, but by my client, the assistant.”

Vicente continued: “If the decisions are made by the assistant, it was considered, less controversy would be generated and it would also dilute more quickly. In addition, it was also stated that this practice has already been tested in 2014-15 and that, precisely, on that occasion the main referee was exposed and critised by the media. For that reason, it was convenient to be more subtle.”

While all of this is still in the investigatory stage and could be discovered to be totally unfounded, it would fit within the larger culture of corruption and suspicion of corruption in Spanish soccer.

Unabashed institutional support for Real Madrid against their rivals and especially Barcelona, at times reaching as high as the nation’s most powerful governmental offices, goes back generations. We’ve touched on a little of that history before, back in the bad old days when Francisco Franco was having Barcelona officials captured, killed, and replaced in the club by men loyal to him.

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And while pro-Real, anti-Barça hostilities have greatly subsided since then, it’s not for nothing that non-Real fans look at many of the curious decisions that tend to go against them and suspect the worst. It’s probably not the best optics when the head of Spain’s soccer governing body skips out on an important meeting to catch a Real Madrid game in Morocco. As the Independent article referenced above points out, Atlético Madrid manager Diego Simeone hinted at this perception in his comments before the season started:

“The league is dangerously prepared for Real Madrid. Madrid cannot go seven years with only winning one league. This year I think that sadly it is difficult to see another team winning it.”

Despite our ethical perceptions of first-world countries, Spain itself and its soccer especially are depressingly corrupt. And not just in favor of Real Madrid. Remember, this is a country where third party teams routinely pay off players in other games to secure favorable results. While this referee’s allegations could be false, the saddest part is that they’re not at all surprising.

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