Lionel Messi was convicted of tax fraud. Three counts of it. And he was handed a 21-month prison sentence (although he will likely avoid any jail time).
It was the conclusion of a long, drawn out criminal case that saw his financial dealings investigated by the authorities for years and then presented in open court.
Barcelona's response? A social media campaign to support him.
FC Barcelona has set up a campaign in support of Leo Messi following the sentence issued this week against the Argentinian and his father.
Using the hashtag #WeAreAllLeoMessi while posting a photo or message with both hands open, the campaign is encouraging all Barca fans to express their sympathy for the greatest footballer in the world by voicing their unconditional support on social networks.
By making it clear that #WeAreAllMessi, we want Leo to know that he is not alone. All members, supporters clubs, fans, athletes, media and everyone else are invited to participate.
At best, Barcelona's campaign is misguided.
Messi has maintained his innocence, but also said that he cannot confirm that there were not shell companies set up to keep from being taxed on €4.1 million in earnings from image rights. He's simply said that he signed a lot of papers without reading them, including having gone to a notary to set a company without knowing what it entailed.
Essentially, Messi cannot confirm that he paid all of his taxes as he should. He can't even say that he did everything he could to ensure he was paying his taxes.
Paying taxes is part of a person's social contract with his country. To commit tax fraud is a violation of that contract and deserves a significant punishment. Even if Messi will not go to prison, his punishment is significant.
It would be one thing for Barcelona to say that they accept the court's ruling and Messi was wrong, but it does not define him and they still support him. People make mistakes and tax fraud may be a crime, but it doesn't necessarily mean that Messi is a bad person. Barcelona can very well support him. But they've done more than just express support.
Barcelona have gone beyond a simple statement and put together an entire campaign. They want their fans to "express their sympathy for the greatest footballer in the world" as if being good at a sport is relevant to to upholding your part of a social contract. And they want people to say "We Are All Messi," which is prepostrous. They aren't the best player in the world, or multimillionaires, or guilty of tax fraud.
We are not all Messi, and it has nothing to do with whether we are Barcelona fans or not. The vast majority of people uphold their social contract and pay their taxes. They pay what the country demands to support the functioning of a government and the services that government provides its people. Messi didn't, as determined by a court of law and Messi hasn't been unable to say otherwise, instead leaning on ignorance.
Maybe this campaign is part of their continued position as a representative of Catalonia, although a vague tweet from the club's president is the closest there is to that. Maybe it is because they fear this case will push him to leave Spain for a club in another country, as has been rumored.
But it is definitely a show of support and a plea for unity for a man who has been found guilty of breaking his social contract with the people, because he has been found guilty of breaking that social contract. And they did it with a hashtag that belies any sort of logic or sense, except to ignore perspective in order to get the desired outcome, which pretty much sums up Barcelona's position on the matter.
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