Controversy over Barça president’s support of jailed leaders
FCBarcelona to play Spanish Cup final on Saturday, with Spain's anthem likely to be booed by fans
The president of Barcelona Footbal Club, Josep Maria Bartomeu, has spoken out about the preventive imprisonment of pro-independence Catalan leaders, calling it “unusual” and “disproportionate.” His words have embroiled the club in political controversy once more, sparking a reaction from the leader of the Socialists in Catalonia, Miquel Iceta, and from his counterpart in the Spanish Socialist party, Pedro Sánchez.
Bartomeu said he regretted the fact that courts are being used to resolve “a political conflict that should be resolved by politicians.” He added that freedom of expression and the right to decide “are, or should be, fundamental rights that cannot be negotiated by any person.” He called on political parties to “do everything possible” to form a new government in order to “get out of this situation.” While Iceta reacted by saying that Bartomeu's statements do not help to "lower the tensions," Sánchez accused Barça's president of "politicizing" sport.
The beautiful game
His statement was made in the context of the coming Copa del Rey football final, one of the biggest dates on the football calendar in Spain. Bartomeu asked fans travelling to Madrid for the final between Barça and Seville to respect “all symbols of identity,” in an explicit reference to Catalan fans whistling and booing throughout the Spanish national anthem. Despite this, Bartomeu also said that whistling does not “undermine any symbol,” but rather is a “protest” about “certain attitudes against the people of Catalonia in recent years.” He also stressed how the Barça board will “always” defend the right to freedom of expression.
Spanish anthem booed
Every year this act sparks controversy in the football world and beyond. From 2009, every time that Barça has played the Copa del Rey final, the anthem has been booed by thousands of Barça supporters in the stadium where the match has been held. That is six times. In the 2015 game, the booing was especially loud. Barça and the Basque team Athletic de Bilbao played against each other in the Catalan capital and around 10,000 whistles were distributed outside the stadium before the match. After the events, some promoters of a manifesto asking people to boo the anthem were taken to the Spanish National Court, which fined one of them with 7,200 euros.
The final of this competition, literally translated as 'King's Cup' in English, is always attended by the Spanish monarch. Right before the match, coinciding with the king arriving to his box, the anthem is played. Some People's Party senior members have suggested that such a match should be cancelled if the anthem has been booed prior to its start.
Politics and football
Bartomeu’s statement was criticized by the leader of the Socialists, Miquel Iceta. According to Iceta, his party would never make this kind of appeal, but “would ask for respect for all opinions.”
In his mind, football and politics should not mix. Iceta said that he lamented how a sport like football be “used politically.”
"We all have the obligation to reduce tensions and promote respect, and Bartomeu's statements do not go in that direction," he said.
The leader of the Spanish Socialists, Pedro Sánchez, said that Barça's president was "politicizing" sport with his statement against having politicians in jail.