Futbol Club de Barcelona are not afraid to get political, and have cemented their position in the controversy surrounding Catalonian independence from Spain. The club found themselves in the middle of a historic moment on Sunday when the national government of Spain shut down a locally organized independence referendum.
Things got ugly in Barcelona on Sunday when violence broke out among protesters and Spanish police, when a few high-ranking Catalan officials were arrested and polling places were forcefully shut down. Catalan officials have reported that over 700 people have been injured, and what was meant to be a revolutionary day for Catalunya, descended into chaos.
The scheduling of the match on the day of the referendum was doomed to fail from the very beginning. Barcelona went ahead and played the match behind closed doors in an eerily empty Nou Camp. However, the club itself did not make the decision to go ahead with their match against Las Palmas. In fact, Josep Bartomeu and the Barcelona board of directors wanted to cancel the match. But La Liga and Spanish football chief, Javier Tebas, made the decision that the game should go ahead.
Barca president Bartomeu has insisted he wanted to cancel the match out of defiance, and to send a message to Spain about his clubs’ condemnation of what transpired in Barcelona on Sunday. Javier Tebas and La Liga threatened a six point penalty in addition to potential economic fines or sanctions, and yet the Barcelona chiefs were willing to make the sacrifice. The Blaugrana have made their position on Catalonian independence and Spanish politics crystal clear, indicative of their status as a national symbol and source of identity for the region.
Barcelona vice president, Carles Vilarrubi, resigned after it was announced that the match would go ahead, in a firm statement to his fellow board of members. The match was played behind closed doors due to security concerns, and footage of the match is surreal to watch. The madness and unrest of an infinitely frustrated Catalonian community became dangerous, and the scene on Sunday was akin to the Romans being banned from their beloved Colosseum.
It is deplorable that Barcelona fans from across the world who travelled to see this match were left standing at the gates of the Nou Camp due to political unrest. The club replaced the scoreboard with the word democracia, and had the Barcelona players walk onto the pitch wearing the yellow Catalonian flag training kits. They changed into their normal home kits just before kick off.
The club left their fans and the global football community in the dark until about 25 minutes before kick off, when at 15:50 they released an official statement: “FC Barcelona condemns the events which have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression. Given the exceptional nature of events, the Board of Directors have decided that the FC Barcelona first team game against Las Palmas will be played behind closed doors following the Professional Football League’s refusal to postpone the game.”
The aforementioned Javier Tebas is central to this politically charged situation. As reported by the BBC, Tebas is unabashedly a Madridista and public supporter of Real Madrid. As recently as last season, he has had public rifts and open criticisms of Barcelona and their players, he is the one who decided to dock Barca six league points if they refused to play the match, and has previously stated FC Barcelona will not play in La Liga if Catalonia secedes from Spain.
It seems like there is a massive conflict of interest and obvious lack of executive neutrality given Tebas’ personal fidelities. It is indicative of a much deeper, historical rift between two cultures with a bloody past. It is an understatement to say that Spanish dictator Francisco Franco- a fervent Madridista– didn’t make it a pleasant experience to be Catalan during his dictatorship. There will always be bad blood between Catalunya and Madrid.
FC Barcelona never publically stated their support of Catalan independence, instead opting to go on the record with their support of “democratic right to free expression”. However, it is abundantly clear where the head honchos at Barca stand.
No matter your personal viewpoint on the issue, Barca’s relentless support of their community is irrefutably commendable. Facing a potentially devastating penalty, club leaders were ready to sacrifice sacred league points in order to stand with the people who give them their very identity. Their unwavering stance proves that FC Barcelona is key in the Catalans people’s struggle to secure their right to self-determination.
Amid all of the confusion and madness, Sergio Busquets was there to help make sense of it all. The Catalan from Sabadell opened the scoring with a massively important goal after an eventless first half. Whether beautifully metaphorical or merely coincidental, it served as a reminder that there will always be hope for Catalonia with FC Barcelona on their side.
Perhaps George Orwell said it best in his Homage to Catalonia: “There are occasions when it pays better to fight and be beaten than not to fight at all.”
Featured photograph: Wikimedia Commons