A mannequin stands next to a ”estelada” or Catalonia independence flag, on a balcony, in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017. Catalonia’s regional parliament will hold a debate this week on Spain’s plan to take direct control of the northeastern region — a session many fear could become a cover for a vote on declaring independence. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
The absurd notion that sport and politics are not inextricably linked is blown sky high with the constant discussions currently taking place as to whether or not FC Barcelona would continue to play in La Liga in the event of Catalonia declaring independence.
The answer is blisteringly simple. No way José. Or, if you prefer it in Catalan; No way Josep.
The only way they could remain would be if, after independence, there were amendments to the country’s sporting laws in the Spanish Parliament in the same way there were to accept Andorra as part of the Spanish league. Independence now sounds a far away possibility, but it took place that will be the consequence.
Lest we forget here, in footballing terms, it would not be just Barcelona that would be affected by a change to an independent Catalonia. Espanyol, also a Barcelona-based club, and Girona also play in Spain’s top flight while Barcelona Reserves, Nastic and Reus play in the second division.
Article 32 of Spanish sporting law states categorically that any club that wants to participate in any “Official competitive sporting activities at state level has to to be integrated within the corresponding Spanish sporting federations.”
If the Catalan football federation left the umbrella of the Spanish football federation they would have to leave the league unless there was a change in the law.
ALL clubs in Catalonia would have to leave the Spanish league.
In truth the loss of Barcelona to the Spanish league would help no one, least of all the league itself.
In 2015 Javier Tebas declared that ‘El Clasico’ Real Madrid v Barcelona was the “Jewel in the La Liga crown”. Bearing in mind that it is watched by 650 million people on televisions around the world it is hard to disagree with him.
It is also the main reason why world wide television rights for La Liga amount to €1.6bn. Anyone of the opinion that these companies would pay a similar amount for a league programme that did not contain the ‘El Clasico’ fixture is not of sound mind.
Economics professor Jose Maria Gay de Liebana, from Barcelona University, believes the departure of Barcelona would result in “at least €200m of television rights money being lost”. Personally I think he has underestimated the importance of the game to the league’s finances.
There have been three key moments in this whole debate about the role of FC Barcelona in the recent political events.
First came the Las Palmas game at the Camp Nou on October 1, played under the echo of brutal behaviour from the Spanish police in Catalan streets. Now from a distance looks like it was a good decision and not only because it meant that Barcelona were not deducted the six points they would have been had they decided not to play.
What they did manage to do though was make a clear statement about what they thought of the behaviour of police on that whole dreadful and shameful day.
Any over-political stance would have been severely punished by the Spanish Federation, the same way that any political stand would have (and has been in the past) punished by UEFA who take a very dim view of sport being used as a political platform. In effect Barcelona, despite leaving many Catalanist fans unhappy, were very much caught between a rock and a hard place.
At the Olympiakos game there was a huge club banner calling for “dialogue, respect and sport” and on that day club President Josep Maria Bartomeu said that in a democratic state people should not be put into prison because of their ideas and political views which is precisely what has happened to the leaders of Catalonia’s two major grassroots independence associations, Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural and Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly, both of who were remanded in custody on October 16 by a court investigating them for “sedition”.
Thirdly, in what it is the most brave declaration to date, the Barcelona president also made clear in the weekend’s season ticket holders’ assembly that he backed the democratic institutions that have been chosen by the people, as a reference to the recent declaration from Madrid that Catalan institutions were going to take over by the Spanish state.
Bartomeu is aware that you don’t have to be an Independentist to be a Barcelona fan, or vice-versa. For that reason he has never actually declared whether he is for or against independence although he did reiterate what was needed now was for “dialogue as the only way possible to find a solution to the situation Catalonia is now living with.” The club has always been in favour of the right to vote about it.
The notion that Barcelona would be welcomed with open arms by any league in the world is also fatuous.
In the first instance they would have to get the approval of FIFA and this would certainly not arrive overnight; ask Gibraltar and Kosovo, who both waited an age before being granted international recognition by football’s governing body.
Secondly, if they were to join, for example, what division would they go into? Would they be catapulted straight into the top flight, because if that was the case it would cause all manner of problems and arguments concerning issues like promotions and relegations.
Or would they have to start at the bottom and climb their way up the French footballing pyramid? The mind boggles.
In truth Barcelona may well be ‘Mas Que un Club’ but that notwithstanding it is still primarily ‘a football club’ and not a political institution, and one that needs the Spanish league as much as the Spanish league needs it.
There are massive plans for building works at the Camp Nou that will cost around €600m and that will be financed by, among other things, the sale of naming rights to the stadium and new sponsorship deals.
Little wonder therefore that a source at the club told the BBC when asked about a possible move from the league in the event of independence that they were not prepared to comment on a “hypothetical scenario”.
No surprise either that at the General Assembly meeting at the club the club President proclaimed: “We are not an instrument that will be manipulated by political interests no matter where they come from. No one can appropriate for their own means our flag and badge.”
And finally someone else with more than a mild interest in seeing Barcelona staying in the Spanish league said, “I cannot imagine the Spanish Liga without Barcelona. I just can’t see it as a fan of football and of sport in general.
Who said that? Why none other than Zinedine Zidane, the coach of Real Madrid!