Barcelona has been cleared against charges of using social media to smear their own players by an independent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The Catalan club paid a company, called I3 Ventures, around one million euro for its services. I3 Ventures then set up several pages which at some points attacked current players such as Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué, former players such as Carles Puyol and Xavi, political rivals of club president Josep Bartomeu, and former coach Pep Guardiola.
Other posts made comments about sports figures not directly related to Barcelona. although the coverage was mostly about Barcelona players. It wasn’t all negative, and a lot of it was positive towards current Barça players.
The club responded by immediately cancelling the contract when the posts came to public attention, claiming that, while they did pay the company for social media work, they had no idea that I3 Ventures’ pages would choose those targets to attack.
The controversy was dubbed “Barçagate,” and rocked the club’s board. Another accusation alleged that the club paid an exorbitant fee for the services of the company, and that someone was making money off the inflated contract.
Emili Rousaud, one of the club’s vice-presidents, resigned as a result, claiming that “someone had their hand in the till” in the process.
The audit has cleared Barcelona of corruption, and now the club is seeking legal action against Rousaud. PwC says Barcelona paid a fair market price.
The club says it is now vindicated.
“After months of having lived with defamatory accusations on this matter, Barcelona asks those media outlets who made the charges of improper behaviour against our organisation to proceed to rectify that information, given that it has no basis and has been denied by a report that has been put together with unlimited access to the information requested about the club and its executives.” the club said in a statement,
PwC did find fault with how the club handled signing and renewing the contracts with NS Group, I3 Ventures’ parent company. Apparently, internal protocols were not followed. However, the audit on balance supports Barcelona’s claims of innocence.