Monday, 31 March 2008

Playing a dangerous game

It's hard to know what to believe. Almost since Ramón Calderón became Real Madrid president, one José Antonio Abellán, a journalist and presenter of the popular late-night radio sports programme El Tirachinas has been conducting a relentless campaign accusing him of all manner of irregularities and possibly even illegalities in his running of the club. Is it a personal vendetta? An attempt by a self-confesed Atlético supporter to destabilise Real Madrid? Or perhaps a well-connected investigative journalist trying to counter the output of a fawning Madrid sports press?

Back in February 2007, Abellán challenged Calderón to appear on his programme to answer a number of allegations for which he had "irrefutable proof" and, should he fail to do this, he would pay 1 million euros to a Real Madrid charity and never work as a journalist again. Needless to say, Calderón declined the invitation. The allegations were:

  • That the board had discussed Fabio Capello's resignation on February 19th.
  • That the president and his directors had "abused" the waiting lists for season tickets to offer them in return for votes during the presidential campaign
  • That Calderón had obtained for three of his children, state-subsidised housing intended to help people on low earnings get on the property ladder

Abellán has both fervent supporters and loud detractors; his shock-jock style guarantees a polarised response. His attacks on Calderón and his directors don't border on the personal; he overshoots the boundaries of decency by a good margin. Nonetheless, neither the club nor Calderón have taken Abellán to court. Calderón's children did take him to court and lost.

The latest salvo in this war of words concerns the allegation last Thursday on El Tirachinas that Calderón and one of his closest collaborators, Alfonso Carrascosa, are planning to manipulate the selection of those Real Madrid members empowered to vote at AGMs, the so-called socios compromisarios. For an explanation of how this "works", see this previous article of mine.

The manipulation involves asking those members who were granted season tickets during the presidential campaign to nominate as their representatives hand picked compromisarios who will approve Calderón's accounts at the next AGM and vote for his proposals. Carrascosa's own company, Legalitas is paying for all the letters sent to Real Madrid members, using an up-to-date membership list obtained directly from the club. To top it all, Carrascosa himself defended his actions on Abellán's programme as "not very ethical but definitely not illegal" and that the club had "always done things this way". Not much of a defence you might say. The club itself was unavailable for comment and has made no official statement on the allegations.

From As, for some the club's official mouthpiece, not a word on the subject. However, Marca does go into some detail, as it has been waging its own personal war of words with Calderón over the last few months, though not with the ferocity and persistence of Abellán. Some Spanish Real Madrid bloggers (here, here, and here) are understandably incensed and demanding Calderón's resignation.

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