The Community Committee is a student lead organisation with the responsibility of raising money for the school charity: Fundación Unblock. The Committee's most recent project, pitched by Community Committee events organiser Ignacio Bertran and Treasurers Borja Avello and Alberto Zhu, was a football tournament. The idea was genius. A simple tournament bracket made up of teams of 5-7 students. Each student had to pay a 5 euro entrance fee and as the tournament was immensely popular, the Committee President Jorge Peña raised over 900 euros.
However, the Unblock Tournament is not famous school-wide because of its financial successes but because of its controversies. Two separate tournaments took place: first, years 7-10 played and then years 11-13. The job of refereeing the year 7-10 games was split between Bertran and Peña and both faced heavy criticisms for their decisions.
Despite his tight schedule, I was able to interview Peña and ask whether he felt the complaints of the younger children were at all valid and while he conceded that perhaps the rules were vague, he stands by his decisions stating ‘we all know how little kids act when they lose’.
The year 11-13 tournament started after the half term break ended and after only a few games, it was already marred by its fair share of controversial referee calls, most notably perhaps in the penalty shootout of the quarter-finals. In response to this, Peña decided to appoint football rules specialist, Juan Alvarez, to aid in refereeing the games.
‘I do not possess any refereeing expertise whatsoever’, states Alvarez, ‘but Peña felt my presence on the field might offer some legitimacy to his calls. These games can become heated, we don’t want to lose control’.
I asked Peña why he decided to appoint Alvarez for the second tournament but not the first. ‘The older kids play at such a level that refereeing decisions stop being black and white, and we need someone who knows how to make tougher calls, operating in the grey area of football rules’, he responded. Many argue he was just scared.
Recently, it has been uncovered that FC Barcelona paid 7.3 million euros between 2001 and 2018 to the company of José María Enríquez Negreira, who held the position of Vice President of the referees committee in the Spanish league. This scandal has created a atmosphere of scepticism towards refereeing in general, felt particularly by the school’s Real Madrid fans. Fans lining the tournament stands were heard flinging accusations of corruption and bribery to Peña, Bertran and Alvarez. ‘Corrupción en la federación’ seems to be the chant of choice. Although these accusations appear to be baseless and there is no evidence to support them, fans are convinced that the referees are corrupt and demand consequences. It’s football Mccarthyism.
This mass hysteria is perhaps another reason Peña decided to bring in refereeing experts like Juan Alvarez. Alvarez stated ‘with more officials on the field, we are less vulnerable to being preyed upon by angry fans. We’re like sardines. If there are more of us, we might appear like a larger animal’.
The final is yet to be played but tensions are rising with many teams demanding their games be repeated due to objections to the refereeing. Will Peña and his team stay strong and resist the outrage? Or will the controversy only grow, resulting in the banning of future Cups.