No confidence motion in Barça president reaches required signatures for referendum
Club finances show total debt doubles to €488 million with losses of €97 million for 2019/20
The crises are piling up at an alarming rate in FC Barcelona, and the end of the road is in sight for Josep Maria Bartomeu as president of the club.
Organisers of a vote of no confidence against the figurehead have reached the requisite number of signatures needed to bring his tenure to a referendum, club finances released this week show total debts have doubled to €488 million, and the investigation into the ‘Barçagate’ scandal has been extended as a judge found evidence of criminality, while it’s not ruled out that Bartomeu could be summoned to testify in the case.
With the excuse of performances on the pitch not emulating the disaster off the pitch, Bartomeu has that one last straw to cling on to, amid one of the biggest institutional crises of the club’s recent history.
Koeman’s men are going well in La Liga with two wins and a draw from their opening three fixtures, but fans will not easily forget the 8-2 mauling at the hands of Bayern Munich and the inefficiencies that that Champions League humiliation shined a blinding light on.
Bartomeu still has the option of resigning voluntarily and saving some grace before members have the chance to vote on a referendum to kick him out immediately, or else he could wait until the already scheduled presidential election in March before he leaves. The current man at the helm is nearing the end of his second tenure as Barça president, and therefore cannot run again for a third term.
Vote of no confidence
‘Mes que una moció’ (‘More than a motion’) was the message behind the campaign to drive Bartomeu out of Barcelona, playing with the wording of the club motto, ‘Mes que un club.’
In circumstances made extra difficult due to the limiting of movement because of the pandemic and no home matches to host the signature-gathering process and bring fans together in one place, the group needed to reach 16,521 valid signatures from club members who agreed to put Bartomeu’s tenure to a vote of no confidence.
In the end, 20,687 names were collected, triggering a process of validating all ballots. Finally, the requisite figure has been passed, meaning the club will have to set a date for the referendum.
For the vote to be valid, a minimum of 10% of club members must participate in the vote.
For the motion of no confidence to pass, a two-thirds majority vote must go in favour of removing the current president.
If the referendum is passed and Bartomeu’s exit is forced from the club, new elections will be set for a new president and board to take over the reins at the club.
Massive losses and debts
Part of the reason that so many fans are in favour of removing the president is the financial disaster that he has presided over.
Barça’s wage bill has been one of the biggest in world sport for years, with players earning massive paychecks and failing to deliver in the most important competition, the Champions League.
On Monday, the club revealed their finances for the 2019/20 season, showing losses of €97 million and total debts skyrocketing to €820 million, a figure that will drop to €488 million when money and earnings that is owed to the club will be paid.
The coronavirus health crisis has had a huge impact on these results, something that wasn’t forecastable, spiraling into a situation out of the hands of anybody. Barça were impacted severely by the loss of matchday revenue and merchandising sales, as the number of tourists visiting the Catalan capital plummeted.
Total income reached €855 million for last season, falling significantly short of the €1.059 billion the club had hoped to reach.
Breaking down the losses, the club explained that they lost €47 million from matchday revenue, €37 million from merchandise, and a further €18 million from a loss of visitors to the club museum.
‘Barçagate’ investigation extended
Bartomeu’s worries are much deeper than simply keeping power at one of the biggest football clubs in the world. A criminal investigation is underway against the Barça president, surrounding potentially illegal payments related to the ‘Barçagate’ scandal, which was revealed last February.
‘Barçagate’ is the name given to the controversy of Bartomeu hiring a social media communications company, I3 Ventures, to allegedly put out negative stories about perceived ‘enemies’ of the club president, including Leo Messi, Gerard Piqué, and Pep Guardiola, while also reporting positive stories about Bartomeu and his management of the club.
An audit that the club commissioned into the contract awarding acknowledged the excessive price, said to be worth just under €1 million, whereas the normal price for such a service would be between €120,000-€150,000. Catalan sports newspaper Diario Sport also said the report also found it unusual that I3 Ventures, a company based in Uruguay, was contracted for the services, rather than a firm based in Spain.
Shortly after the story broke, several of Bartomeu’s board members resigned from their posts, including the man that was expected to be the continuity candidate in the next elections.
Now Bartomeu is facing criminal action after a judge has found potential evidence and reason to extend the investigation. Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia revealed that the judge presiding over the case believes it is necessary to continue the secret investigation to avoid “any risk of disappearance of essential evidence,” and in view of the fact that there is still documentation to be delivered.
The money laundering and economic crime unit of the Catalan police has found evidence of unfair administration in actions taken by the board, specifically for paying an off-market price which would have damaged the club.
For this reason, La Vanguardia say that it is not ruled out that Bartomeu, former Barça official Jaume Masferrer who managed the contracts with I3 Ventures, and other officials be summoned to testify over the matter.
Josep Maria Bartomeu will be president of FC Barcelona for less than a year longer, but he could be ousted much earlier than that. Regardless of when he leaves, after years of mismanagement, scandals, and potentially criminal activity, it is unlikely that Barça fans will miss him when he’s gone.