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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.
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.]