Mapi Leon during the match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF, corresponding to the week 18 of … [+] the spanish women’s league Primera Iberdrola, played at the Johan Cruyff Stadium, on 31th January 2021, in Barcelona, Spain. — (Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The Spanish Football Association (RFEF) yesterday handed out a four-game suspension and a €601 ($719) fine to FC Barcelona Femení defender Mapi León following a tweet she published criticizing a referee for sending her off in a match against Real Madrid in January.
In a four-page resolution published yesterday, the RFEF stated that after it decided to initiate an “extraordinary disciplinary procedure” against Mapi León on February 4, they considered it appropriate to propose a suspension sanction of four matches and a fine of €601 for a “serious infraction” of Article 100 of their disciplinary code.
León was dismissed after receiving two questionable yellow cards from referee Elia María Martínez. In the 39th minute she cleanly tackled Aurélie Kaci in midfield but was adjudged to have fouled her opponent. In the 79th minute, with Barcelona winning 4-0, León was deemed to have brought down Sofia Jakobsson running directly through on goal. Replays showed that the defender had played the ball back to the goalkeeper before the forward fell. Martínez awarded Real Madrid a penalty and showed León a second yellow card.
MADRID, SPAIN – OCTOBER 04: Sofia Jakobsson of Real Madrid competes for the ball with Maria Leon of … [+] FC Barcelona during the Primera Iberdrola women match between Real Madrid Femenino and FC Barcelona Femenino at Ciudad Real Madrid on October 04, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)
Responding to a video post on social media showing the two offences and claiming that León had been “taken for a ride”, the defender replied by saying “I would be ashamed. Today, it was my turn, but it is one after the other, the other day they cancelled two goals that were valid for our rival today (Real Madrid). But why are we are going to improve right?”
Two days later, FC Barcelona filed an appeal to the league’s Competition Committee against the second yellow card which led to León’s dismissal on the basis of the “non-existence of bringing down the rival”. The appeal was dismissed on the basis that the club had failed to prove with video evidence that the referee had made a “manifest error” in her initial judgement, penalizing León for “knocking down an opponent in the dispute of the ball within the opponent’s penalty area thus avoiding a clear chance of scoring”. Two days after that, the RFEF opened disciplinary proceedings against León for her social media post.
In their judgement released yesterday, the RFEF claimed that once they established that Mapi León was the author of the tweet in question, they had had to decide whether she was merely exercising her right to freedom of expression as argued by her counsel. They concluded that this right is not an absolute one.
The governing body stated that they considered a “serious infraction” to be something that “questions the honesty and impartiality of any member of the arbitration group” which includes “statements that imply a disapproval of the activity of any member of the groups mentioned when they are made with contempt or when offensive, insulting, humiliating or rude”. They decided that this standard had been met by León’s post.
Sanctions for such an offence ranged from a suspension of four to twelve league matches and a fine from €601 ($719) to €3005 ($3596). Taking into account the player’s absence of previous offences, the Competition Judge considered that the suspension and fine should be imposed in its minimum degree. León will therefore miss FC Barcelona’s next four league matches against Valenica, Rayo Vallecano, Sevilla and Levante. She remains free to play in the club’s UEFA Women’s Champions League matches. The club has ten days to appeal the decision.
The standard of refereeing in women’s football continues to be a matter of debate throughout Spain. Speaking after the Real Madrid match, Barcelona coach Lluis Cortes stated that “if we want this League to be a benchmark, if we want to continue growing, if we want to be a really top League, we have to grow in all aspects. The coaches first, the players too, but also the refereeing team”.
“It is clear that no one whistles to be wrong, no one is expressly wrong, but what we must do together is help the referees, I do not know with what system or in what way, but we must try to minimize arbitration errors. Today it has not influenced the result, but it has influenced the fact that a player will surely not be able to play the next game”. Team-mate Ana Crnogorčević also came out in support of León tweeting “every day the same, there is much to improve”.
Two weeks earlier, León had posted another tweet following a Super Cup semi-final defeat to Atlético Madrid in which she asked why Video Assistant Referees (VAR) were not used in the women’s game. “I believe and correct myself if I am wrong that we (and I am talking about women’s football) strive and work hard to continue growing. One day the mistakes will favor the rival and another day they will favor me, but this does not help us. I personally am a very ambitious person and what I want is to surround myself with the best and that, that makes me better, and so on. I speak today because I am already tired. . . it is not a destructive criticism, but a constructive one, I simply want our effort to be valued. I’m not saying it’s easy for them, but that’s why the male have VAR, to help right?

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