'More than a club': Barçelona back 'illegal' Catalan independence vote

The La Liga champions are supporting an independent Catalonia, despite the Spanish government's refusal to play ball

BY James Dempsey 11:00 Monday 8 May 2017, 11:00 8 May 2017

Lionel Messi strikes the ball while playing in FC Barçelona's 2014 Senyera away kit [S.Lau/DPA/PA Images]

Spanish football club Barçelona have officially backed calls for Catalonian independence, with the club saying they support the region’s president’s plans to hold a referendum later this year.

In a brief statement released by the reigning Spanish champions on Sunday, the club said they “agreed with the National Pact for the Referendum, the campaign to gather support from institutions, organisations, those in elected office and individuals inside and outside Catalonia.”

An illegal referendum

As the current president of Catalonia, Carles Puidemont leads the Junts Pel Si (‘Together for Yes’) coalition that is advocating for independence from the rest of Spain.

Despite sustained criticism from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy that any such vote would be illegal, Junt Pel Si has promised to deliver a referendum on secession in September. The referendum would come after a plebiscite held by the Catalan government in 2014 saw more than 80% of voters opting for independence.

Artur Mas, then president of Catalonia, was banned from serving in public office for two years for organising that referendum, which was ruled to be illegal and not in accordance with constitutional law.

‘More than a club’

Currently at the top of La Liga, FC Barçelona have long been supporters of a distinct Catalan culturalism, with the club’s motto, Mes que un club, translating as ‘More than a club.’

In 2014, the club’s away kit was heavily influenced by the yellow-and-red stripes of the Senyera, the flag of Catalonia since the 12th century.

In recent years, as calls for Catalan independence have increased, fans of the five-time European champions have also taken to bringing the Estelada flag, which adds a five-pointed white star on a blue triangle at the hoist side of the Senyera, to home and away games.

In 2016, UEFA fined Barçelona €150,000 for its fans’ use of the flags, saying that “messages of a political nature” are banned from the game.

The Spanish government also prohibited football fans from displaying the Estelada at the final of the Copa del Rey between Barçelona and Sevilla in Madrid, arguing that it could “incite, foment or help violent or terrorist behaviour.” A Madrid judge overturned the ban after Barçelona officials argued in favour of freedom of expression.

Catalan independence

Home to more than 7.5m Spanish citizens, but with its own distinct culture and language, the wealthy region of Catalonia in north-west Spain has sought to vote on independence since 2010.

In March, the regional government insisted that a September referendum would take place, despite the outright rejection of the Spanish government to the vote.

“We will do the unspeakable so that the citizens of Catalonia can vote in 2017 in an auto-determination referendum,” Carles Puigdemont said at the time.

Opinion polls suggest that a vote on independence would be evenly split, but that the vast majority of Catalans support going to the polls to make their decision heard.

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