A European Parliament session on tax evasion by footballers was turned on Tuesday into a trial of the support given by Barcelona FC to its Argentinian star Lionel Messi.
While the International Federation of Football Associations, FIFA, felt the assembly had no right to call clubs or players to order for tax evasion, members of the Parliament’s Commission of Inquiry into the Panama Papers felt differently.
Messi was found guilty of tax fraud in 2016 and ordered to pay a fine of 2.1 million euros for dodging the fisk through an offshore construction. He also received a 21-month suspended sentence. Since then, FC Barcelona launched a social media campaign under the slogan “We are all Leo Messi” in support of its star.
The campaign was soon the target of jibes, but according to members of the European parliament, the problem goes much deeper. “Messi was guilty and he was sanctioned,” commented Louis Michel (MR – Reformist Movement). “This campaign is immoral and contradicts the values promoted by FIFA”
FIFA, for its part, prefers to relegate the issue to the sidelines, saying it focuses on the game, not on tax matters. “It’s a matter for national legislation,” FIFA’s Kimberley Morris argued. “Our competencies are limited. We do what is in our power to investigate the sports aspects.” That response left Euro-deputies in shock. “You are disdainfully shedding your moral responsibility,” said Louis Michel.
The federation, based in Zurich for tax reasons, has a heavy past itself in terms of corruption and money laundering since 1974, when Joel Havelange became its chairman. The award of the next two World Cups, to Russia for 2018 and to Qatar for 2022, is under a legal investigation.
FIFA itself came in for a barrage of attacks from Euro parliamentarians on Tuesday. “The federation sees the legislation for players’ agents solely as a framework that member states must adapt,” commented Gregor Reiter of the European Football Agents Association (EFAA). “That leads to diverging rules depending on the country, which makes it very difficult to take legal action against bad practices.” In this regard, norms related to the transfer of minors are particularly under fire.
The European Commission investigation into the Panama Papers will submit its final report on November – December of this year.