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Imported sports: Catalonia goes cricket crazy

Barcelona residents vote to build new €1.6 million cricket ground in recent city-wide participatory budgets

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27 August 2021 05:21 PM

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Cillian Shields|Barcelona

In many parts of the world, cricket is by far and away the most popular sport

Having started in England in the early part of the 1700s, it grew through the centuries to English colonies around the globe, and is now the number one sport in places such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, while also holding huge popularity in parts of the Caribbean, Australia, and New Zealand.

The global flavour for cricket eventually arrived to Catalonia, largely thanks to the growing immigrant population bringing their cultures, traditions, and of course sports to our shores. 

According to Catalonia’s statistics institute, there were over 54,000 Pakistanis living in Catalonia in 2020, almost 30,000 Indians, and more than 9,000 Bangladeshis in 2020. 

Just two decades earlier, there were just over 2,000 people from Pakistan living in Catalonia, 1,300 Indians, and only 367 Bangladeshis. The growth of cricket in Catalonia goes hand-in-hand with this growth in immigration. 

There are 34 teams currently competing in Catalonia’s top cricket league, organised by the Catalan Cricket Federation, with the vast majority of them being made up of nationals from various countries in the Indian subcontinent. 

Teams are spread out throughout the land, with many representing communities in Barcelona and surrounding areas but also Girona, Vic, Lleida, Roses, and many others as well.

The first cricket tournament in Catalonia was held in Tarragona in 2007, and the following year, the first Catalan league kicked off.

Barcelona votes for a new cricket ground

Despite football being by far the most popular sport in Catalonia, residents of Barcelona recently voted to allocate €1.6 million to the construction of a new cricket ground in the city. 

As part of the city council’s participatory budgets initiative, residents were given the chance to vote on different projects to allocate a total of €30 million euros to, with the Catalan Cricket Federation putting forward the proposal of renovating the Camp Julià de Capmany pitch in Montjüic.

The cricket pitch was one of the biggest winners of the scheme, garnering the most votes in the first round of voting and second-most in the second and final round, ensuring the funds to give Catalan cricket a brand new base.

Currently, many league games are played in a field in Riudarenes, a small rural village in the Girona area, but a new headquarters in Montjüic would provide the perfect place to stage many games. 

“At the moment the ground is all sort of gravel sand and we’re hoping it will become a sort of fake turf,” Sam Phillipps, vice-president of the Barcelona International Cricket Club (BICC) explains. 

“They’ll be building a clubhouse with toilets, maybe a shower, a little bar maybe.” 

“Cultural melting pot”

Naturally, with players from all over the world, the game serves as a cultural melting pot, bringing people from diverse backgrounds together in the name of the sport they love. 

Lucky and Shub, two players from the Men In Blue team based in Barcelona, passionate about bringing their game to these shores, agree that the growth of the sport in Catalonia is “wonderful” to see. 

Shub explains to Catalan News that despite there being “tensions on the border between India and Pakistan,” among cricket players in Catalonia “there is absolutely no animosity, we love playing with each other.”

“Some of my best friends are from across the border,” he explains. “You see the power of a sport, it's amazing to play with people from different cultures and just get to know each other on a personal level.”

His Men In Blue teammate Lucky reaffirms the “humanity” that the sport brings to him and others. He says that on the cricket pitch, “we forget” political issues: “We cherish being like a sportsman.” 

Lucky concludes that with the new ground in Montjüic, “these bonds will grow even stronger.” 

Friendly atmosphere

The friendly atmosphere among players is paralleled among different teams, as the pair were delighted to be invited to a Saturday morning training session of another team, the Barcelona International Cricket Club, during the summer. 

BICC are the oldest cricket club in Catalonia, founded by an Englishman in 1982. Their vice-president, Sam Phillipps, explains that currently there are “nine or ten” different nationalities playing within the club. 

“We’re a very social club,” Sam says. “I’m sure when we finish our game here we’ll be in the bar having a drink or two. For me, coming from England, cricket is a very social sport, that’s a big part of it and it’s something we have in our club too.”

At the moment, there are no Catalans playing for either the Barcelona International Cricket Club nor Men In Blue, but Sam hopes that with the buzz and new interest generated from the new ground winning out in the participatory budgets, this may soon change. 

“I'm hoping if we can get a nice permanent ground, that more people will be interested in playing and coming along to participate,” he says, adding, “and hopefully it would entice some locals as well.”

Filling the Sink podcast

Cricket, Gaelic football, and American football are three sports that are hugely popular in certain parts of the world but more of a minority pursuit in Catalonia. But that doesn't mean that the players are any less passionate. Press play below to listen to the latest episode of Filling the Sink or subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts or Spotify.

 

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  • The Barcelona International Cricket Club in action in a training session (by Cillian Shields)

  • The Barcelona International Cricket Club in action in a training session (by Cillian Shields)

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