Article published at The Atlantic. May 19th, 2016
In Spain, soccer is more than just a sport. Over the past century, political battles have been fought on the pitch, including, most notably, over Catalonia’s independence movement.
Police in Madrid have been ordered to search FC Barcelona fans this Sunday night for Estelada flags that are used by Catalan separatists to show their support of an independent state. The yellow- and red-striped flag with a white star and blue triangle is an “inflammatory symbol,” according to Spanish government officials, who told The Telegraph the match between Barcelona and Sevilla at the Copa del Rey, or King’s Cup, in Madrid “must not be made a scene of political struggle.”
FC Barcelona, located in the capital of Catalonia, was outraged by the order,saying in a statement the move would impede the free speech of its 19,000 fans who will attend the match. The club continues:
FC Barcelona considers the decision to be an attack on the freedom of expression, the fundamental right of each and every individual to express their ideas and opinions freely and without censorship, a right which is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. FC Barcelona has always defended, and will continue to defend, the freedom of expression of all its members and fans, who have always displayed a high level of civility and respect.
To add to what is sure to be a heated match in Madrid, Spain’s King Felipe VI will be there. At last year’s Copa del Rey, Barcelona fans jeered and whistled at both the Spanish national anthem and the king. The club was also fined $78,000 by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) later in October for flying the Estelada at a Champions League match.
Banning the separatist symbol of the independence movement goes beyond sports. Last week, the Spanish government banned the flag from being displayed at government buildings during national elections scheduled for June 26. After the announcement, Catalan officials invited citizens to fly the Estelada flag at their homes.
Spain is sensitive to the movement. In November, Catalan lawmakers voted to break away from Spain by 2017, an action that Spanish officials said they would block. As Time explains, secession of the region of 7.5 million people could have massive implications for all of Spain:
Catalonia is arguably Spain’s most powerful economic region, making up just 16% of the country’s population while providing a fifth of the country’s economy. Though Catalonia has roots as an independent state dating back to the 11th century, it has long been a part of Spain, while maintaining its own language, culture, cuisine, and semi-autonomous government.
Since the soccer club’s founding in 1899, FC Barcelona has been rooted in Catalan pride and the region’s desire for independence. During the 1910s in the early years of the club, Catalan was the team’s official language. In one match, in 1925, during the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, fans responded to the Spanish national anthem with jeers and whistles. The government responded by shutting the stadium down for six months.
On April 6, 1936, troops under the command of Francisco Franco, who would later become the country’s fascist dictator for nearly 40 years, arrested Josep Sunyol, the club president and Catalan nationalist leader, just north of Madrid, and shot and killed him on the spot. The club views his death as one the most pivotal moments in its history.
Read the full article here.