Truth and Perspective: On UNICEF, UEFA, and Barca

This piece is not intended as a personal attack. I respect the work done by sports journalists a great deal, and I think it is wrong for them to face abuse on a daily basis for doing their job. This post was written as a response to the specific allegations made by Mr Duncan Castles because he is the most prominent broadsheet journalist to have advanced them. I do not want to pick on anyone. This is about the truth.

When Jose Mourinho first muttered his now infamous comments about the insidious, mututally beneficial relationship between FC Barcelona and UNICEF (and he didn’t mean positive publicity and money), I laughed them off. A lot of people did. Who would believe such obvious idiocy? The man was angry and he’d spoken in the heat of the moment, or he would surely have come up with something a bit more credible.

I will now pause to admit that Mr Castles has made me re-examine some of my central assumptions about football fandom with his recent comments on Twitter. Maybe we are out of touch with reality. Maybe people are actually willing to take seriously the concept that UNICEF was involved in a global conspiracy for Barcelona to win the Champions League.

Read that last sentence again. Does it still sound ridiculous? Congratulations, you have retained a sense of perspective. Unfortunately, I have not. I’m going to take these allegations seriously and examine them. When a journalist who works for a major broadsheet repeats a ridiculous allegation as if it has been backed up by proof, I feel a need to refute it for my own peace of mind. I know this is likely futile, and giving attention to a subject that shouldn’t even be under discussion. But now that it has become, somehow, a legitimate topic for debate, there must be push back.

Truth is important.

Let us assume we still live in a fact-based world where serious allegations about important institutions who depend on their reputation need to be backed up by proof before they become true in the eyes of the public. It’s a dangerous assumption to make in this day and age, but bear with me.

I will now examine the chain of logic inherent in Mr Castles’ allegations, taken from the screencap of his Twitter timeline below.

[Read from the bottom up.]

Step 1: Tuesday’s referee, Cuneyt Cakir, is Turkish. The deputy chairman of UEFA’s Referees Committee, Senes Erzik, is also Turkish.

As Mr Castles has subsequently pointed out, everything he posted above is factual. Mr Cakir is indeed Turkish. So is Mr Erzik. I take no issue with the facts. What I do take issue with is what he implies with these facts. Here’s the nice thing about innuendo: you don’t ever have to state it out right, everyone knows what you mean, and you have deniability. That’s why it’s so powerful.

So let me state out right what is being implied. Namely, that Mr Erzik had something to do with the appointment of his countryman for Tuesday, for a nefarious purpose. What purpose, you ask? Well, innocent reader, you’ll have to read on.

I can’t believe I need to say this, but here it is: it is not inherently suspicious that the referee is Turkish, just because the deputy chairman of the Referees Committee is also Turkish. If you think there is, substitute ‘English’ or ‘German’ for Turkish and take a moment to examine the source of your prejudice.

Mr Castles has thoughtfully provided further allegations in order to expand upon this point. See his timeline for the full details, mainly involving the Turkish match-fixing scandal of 2011. I won’t get into the details, because they are not actually relevant, except to say that the facts don’t add up to anything incriminating. It all sounds vaguely conspiratorial until right up until you try to make the chain of logic connect.

Just like the facts provided here don’t add up. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Step 2: Mr Erzik used to work for UNICEF

Good for him. All this establishes is that M Ezrik was once employed by an inter-governmental organisation dedicated to humanitarian work.

I assume the unspoken implication here is that Mr Erzik is still working for UNICEF as part of the aforementioned nefarious purpose: namely, for FC Barcelona to win the Champions League. There is no proof whatsoever backing up this crucial aspect of the conspiracy narrative.

Step 3: FC Barcelona have a partnership agreement with UNICEF

Everyone knows about Barca’s partnership with UNICEF (which in itself speaks to the partnership’s success in terms of publicity), but I’m willing to bet most people don’t know what it actually involves, aside from the logo on Barca’s shirts.

Here’s UNICEF’s web page on the subject:

The UNICEF-FC Barcelona alliance strategically harnesses the power and potential of sport to raise funds and awareness around HIV/AIDS at the international, national and local level towards achieving the Millenniums Development Goals.

Notice the absence of the words ‘Champions League’. As part of the partnership, Barca donates 1.5 million euros a year to UNICEF via the FC Barcelona Foundation towards firstly the prevention of HIV/AIDS and (since 2011) the promotion of education through sport.

(Incidentally, UNICEF’s other corporate partners include Gucci, H&M, Ikea, and ING. The FC Barcelona Foundation’s other partners include UNESCO, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Inter-American Development Bank. I would have liked to see Mourinho ranting about a global Microsoft-Barca conspiracy.)

Since it’s being alleged that UNICEF is using former employees to help fix football matches for one of their corporate partners, let’s look at what they actually do.

UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) was created by the United Nations General Assembly by Resolution UN/GA/57 (I) of 11 December 1946. It is a permanent part of the United Nations system. In its own words, its mission is:

We believe that nurturing and caring for children are the cornerstones of human progress. UNICEF was created with this purpose in mind – to work with others to overcome the obstacles that poverty, violence, disease and discrimination place in a child’s path. We believe that we can, together, advance the cause of humanity.

You don’t even have to take their word for it. Here’s the Charity Navigator page dedicated to their US branch. Once again, notice the lack of reference to football matches, and any concern about who wins them. As an inter-governmental organisation, UNICEF is accountable to its member states. Its work is funded by voluntary contributions from corporations and civil society. Once again: this is a massive organisation governed by international law and concerned with the welfare of children all over the world. They are being accused of using their shadowy connections to fix football matches.

I know it’s difficult, and I know we’ve all been consumed by the world-ending importance of football at one point or another, but try to acquire some perspective. Think about what you’re saying in real world terms when you link UNICEF to a conspiracy to win a football tournament.


To sum up: I have established above that there are holes in each limb of the UNICEF conspiracy narrative. (By the way, ask me how silly I feel typing out ‘UNICEF conspiracy’.) The facts we’ve been provided do not link up into a coherent narrative. In fact, there are gaping holes big enough to fit the Camp Nou in them. My training as an advocate taught me to try and understand the other side’s argument. In this case, I have tried, and I have failed. There is simply not enough to back it up. To make damaging insinuations without a shred of evidence is simply irresponsible and unworthy of broadsheet journalism.

Now, I could use this space to make any number of allegations myself about Mr Castles’ motivations in making the comments discussed above, and many have already done so on various forms of social media. But I’m not going to, because I don’t believe in making accusations without proof, and this isn’t personal.

It’s about truth. Simple as that.

[Note: I know you guys don’t need the reminder, but since it is such a sensitive issue: please refrain from personal attacks in the comments.]

By Linda

20-something Chinese Kiwi Barrister. Enjoys short walks on the beach, Argentinian players and Pep Guardiola. @blackwhitengrey for hot takes on all three.


  1. First off, nice to have an article by you Linda! I’ve always enjoyed your writing 🙂

    With regards to the “conspiracy”, I feel that at this stage people will believe what they want and no matter how much evidence is against that, people will cling on to their belief. I’ve never heard of Mr Castle nor read his writing, but to me his tweets’ purpose is to fuel smoke from a non-existent fire (excuse the bad analogy).

    Non-fans of FCB will say anything to undermine the current team: their achievements, play style, etc. It’s really sad that people cannot just enjoy the match and ignore all these off-field accusations.

  2. As you correctly feared, even an act of refuting such ridiculous claims and providing a whole lot of justifications for why such conspiracy cries are utter crap will only serve to bring attention to a topic that shouldn’t be there at all.
    Haters will hate and the more we deny it, their belief gets strengthened. Of course it is tough to ignore. when we position ourselves to be above everyone else and more than a club and what not, we are likely to be bombarded with crazy stuff. Anything that will tarnish the squeaky clean image that we project.
    Mou and some others casually abuse the power of the spoken word in press conferences. They don’t have to say anything. Its enough to Just ask a question (por que?) and suddenly everyone is thinking about it.
    The only solution for all this off field crap to end is when governing bodies like FIFA and UEFA can implement strict disciplinary measures to prevent talk of Refs, conspiracies and things outside of football.

  3. It all started with Special Five and i assume it will end with him.
    A bad loser as he is, of course that everything else, rather than football issue is the reason for his failures, he will always complain whenever things don’t go his way.
    The problem is his obsession with us, literally with the club and his long wished desire to coach us. Probably he never will!!!
    People need sensations, people need conspiracies because they are much easier to believe than to actually accept that a certain team is playing above everything the others are playing. A 100 times spoken lie will eventually become truth.
    The special Five should involve in the politics. I mean, he have all the needed attributes to become one hell of a politician.
    I follow Barcelona since the late 80’s, early 90’s, though the game that i fall in love with this club was played in 1984 (Red Star Belgrade vs. Barcelona) and DAM goal was something i will never forget, the whole stadium applauded for several minutes. And i have witnessed some dark times in our recent history and some painful games to watch throughout this period, so lately (2005-) i am enjoying the time of my life as much is the club concerned, SO, i can only LAUGH at loud of the conspiracy claims, especially when they come out of Special Five and his followers factory.

  4. Beautifully stated, logically argued. Allegations such as these, as Linda notes, take on the rotten patina of truth as enough people begin to believe them.

    It is one thing when a scorched-earth loon of a coach splutters something in the heat of battle. It is quite another when a journalist makes, by innuendo, those very same allegations. The worst part about innuendo is the smug smirk of the person making the “non-allegation,” as in “Now I’m not saying that two plus two equals four. But you do your own math.”

    My very own Chicago Tribune ran a column that was witty and smart as can be. It was an obit for Facts, rooted in the shameful innendo that taints politics in the U.S. Don’t forget that a significant portion of the populace believes that a sitting U.S. president is not legally by birth fit to hold the office, and is (shudder!) a Muslim.

    Stepping back from the absurdity of such things, that people believe them points to the power of allegation. And you know what? Every now and again, somebody has to state, even if only for the record, “This. Is. Stupid. Believe it if you like, but no amount of logic will support the allegation. I will apply some, to demonstrate.”

    People love to believe that things are out of their control, so conspiracy theories work. “It isn’t my team, it’s the global UNICEF conspiracy.”

    Wonder why UNICEF didn’t want us to win the Liga, too?

  5. The way to deal with such idiocy is to make fun of this guy. Make jokes, puns, funny images, derogatory images etc. That is the only way to ruin the reputation of idiots like him. Logical arguments don’t work.

    Trust me, I’m an internet expert.

    If he lashes out against it people will call him butthurt and make more fun of him.

  6. Very well defined rebuttle. Isn’t it amazing. No. It’s acutally not. In 2012, there are still Holocaust deniers, Global Warming deniers, Space Exploration(landing on the moon) deniers, Dinosaur’s Exsistence deniers. Now, that being said, can you really get upset when someone throws S$@t on the wall and trys to make it stick? All of the aforementioned is born out of ignorance. Many people feel “ignorance” carries a negative conotation. I’m not one of them. I’m ignorant about many things. Hoever, ignorance coupled with fear produces drivel about a great number of things. Barcacef is just another.

  7. Thanks for the post, Linda.

    As a regular donor to UNICEF, I’m offended by this allegation. In my view, this organization is one of the few UN institutions that actually work, and to link the good name of this org. with something that has no proof is truly disappointing.

    Linda, since you are a lawyer, can the accused parties take Duncan Castles to court? What is a difference between a journalist stating none sense on the web (note: his account is public) and a Radio station accusing Barca of doping (referring to last year’s case)?

    1. messifan donates to UNICEF. messifan supports FCB. This should give Duncan Castles enough ‘evidence’ to back up his conspiracy theory..

    2. Lol, both my parents have in the past worked for Unicef and one still does now. Of course, no there has heard about such a conspiracy. #eyeroll

  8. And just to take the whole thing to it’s ridiculous extremes, as I pointed out on twitter:

    1) In 2005 Bayern Munich played a charity match for UNICEF.
    2) That same year Chelsea knocked Bayern out of the Champion’s league quarterfinals.
    3) Chelsea was then eliminated from the semifinals by Liverpool due to a controversial goal by Luis Garcia (a Spanish player).
    4) The referee who allowed that goal to stand was Lubos Michel, who had previously done charitable work with the International Committee of the Red Cross, an organization that has very close ties to UNICEF.
    5) And guess who was the coach of Chelsea in 2005? Mourinho, that’s who!

    Now I’m not saying that UNICEF teamed up with the ICRC to influence the referee to award the goal to Liverpool in retaliation for knocking Bayern out of the tournament…but you can draw your own conclusions.

  9. Gosh – I must write to Duncan Castles right away – his innuendo party is missing a vital key:

    Turkish Airlines is a major sponsor of FCB.

    They also sponsored a concert in Barcelona last year with the proceeds going to UNICEF:

    Pffft – he calls himself a journalist. 😀

    BTW: I believe that Tomas Roncero is also getting in on the conspiracy innuendo, but as I can’t bear to watch and listen to him on TV, I’m not deigning to grace his Twitter page.

    1. I’m booking my Munich hotel reservations right now. Wish me luck in the soci lottery for Final tickets.

      Hey, nzm, are you on Twitter?

    2. I have an account, Kevin – @nzmichele, but it’s pointless following me because I don’t use it. 😀

  10. Can we ask Erzik to use his magic Turkish mind telepathy to freak out Oezil

    Or did Oezil get his receiver removed after he decided to identify as German

    1. I thought that the contest closed before El Clasico, otherwise, how can the tie-breaker question be fair?

    2. Oh, yeah! Never mind. Captain Dumbass here didn’t read his own post, which CLEARLY says ….

      –Because of the tiebreaker, entries must be in the Sunday before El Clasic.

      Sighhhhhh Have pity on the elderly. 😀

  11. Logic and facts do not work against people who want to believe what they believe. Unfortunately, that’s the world we live in.

  12. I like the way you talks.

    I’m glad Duncan Castles lit a fire under your ass and got you writing on this blog again. Cheers!

  13. I hope that the team can pull off a come back later but not like the last time we had to come back from them in 2000.

  14. Great post Linda! I hope this post is read by as many non-Barca fans as possible.
    Duncan Castles shames the profession of journalism and provides with ammunition all those that claim that most journalist are paid by 3rd parties to make them look good or pressurize people in this case referees…
    Anyways we know the path…VISCA BARCA!

  15. Ooh and I dont mind if Pep goes with 3-4-3 or even 3-5-2 this time because they are obviously going to send Drogba cross the half-way line.
    In any case we dont need more than 3 at the back.

    What formation do you guys want?


    1. 0-10-0
      Why? Because it’s gotten us this far.

      We’re gonna have 3 in the back. No other choice. I hope Pique plays today. I hope it’s the right Pique.

  16. Iniesta, Alves, Alexis and Pique are my key players for this match.

    Iniesta – creative force to create space other than Messi but he must play in the middle.
    Alves – to link up with Messi and his crosses.
    Alexis – to get under their skin cause of his power.
    Pique – to stop Drogba and to create havoc in attack. Can see him scoring.

    These 4 players must perform those tasks otherwise it will be difficult.

  17. Very well reasoned, logical argument.

    The conspiracy arguments are fact free assertions with no evidence behind them. It’s very disappointing and hard to believe that these beliefs have rooted in a way that even major journalists give them credence.

    I do think it’s important to actively engage them as the strategy of just ignoring them is past the point of efficacy. These things should be documented somewhere.

  18. Lineup confirmed:

    Valdés, Puyol, Mascherano, Piqué; Busquets Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc; Alexis, Messi, Cuenca

  19. Line-up

    Masch – Pique – Puyol
    Xavi – Busquets – Iniesta
    Cuenca – Messi – Alexis

    1. Chelsea

      Inanovic – Cahill – Terry – Cole
      Obi – Lampard
      Ramires – Meireles – Mata

    2. Still no Pedro 🙁

      So Cuenca is the replacement for Dani Alves, that means we will still play very much through the center, right?


      I pray for a victory with +2 goals *wololo*

  20. I literally don’t ever recall a big game which Alves missed because of being dropped (UCL final in 09 he was suspended). Pep is such a mad scientist.

    1. Makes perfect sense to drop him for this game though – with Chelsea seating extremely deep, there will be no space behind their line for Dani to use.

  21. Much speculation:

    1. Alves has been being exploited the last few matches
    2. Guardiola wants a true winger

    Personally, dunno. What I do know is that I call this lineup “Attack of the Dancing Midgets.” If the attack works as it does in Guardiola’s head, the match will be over by the half. It’s everyone everywhere, all with great ball skills, being orchestrated by Xavi. What I might do in response is mark the hell out of Xavi, since you aren’t going to able to stop Messi/Sanchez/Cuenca/Iniesta getting into the box and raising hell.

  22. As usual Pep surprises everybody with his formation, i hope it works. we need a goal a half and we r through.
    Go TEAM.

  23. Not a bad lineup. Don’t mind Alves not being there – his play has been patchy – but I do worry if Masch is playing centrally in the back three. He has to be either side. I’d rather play four at the back with cover for whoever is marking Drogba and the spare man ( hopefully Pique) carrying the ball towards the heart of their defence. It’s at times like this I wish he had had more matches.

    I’d rather have seen Pedro than Cuenca but if he can beat Cole in a dribble or get his crosses past the first man then Pep will have called it correctly. He has the skill. However, he won’t finish as well as Pedro or Tello I’m thinking.

    Whatever, we need to take our chances tonight. If we do that we’re through.

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