Since the beginning of time, particularly during the last century and a half, when politics within sports governing as well as political interferences in sports have caused many controversies from Jessie Owens humiliated Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Germany during the 1936 Olympics to the FIFA corruption scandals in 2016, all of them as a result of mixing politics into sports, and even with the kneeling during National Anthems during NFL games since 2016 as a result of unresolved racial injustice with police violence and rise of alt-right movements in the United States. However, with the recent uproar concerning the future of Spain’s biggest autonomous region in Catalonia in pursuit of independence from the Kingdom of Spain have resulted fom sharp rebukes between the supporters of the independence movement and those who opposed such notions, thus resulting into a diplomatic nightmare for both sides. Previously, I discussed how alleged “independence” movement of my birthplace Hong Kong may not be as feasible as it may appear to be, it’s the same with above mentioned campaign. Since I don’t have the same depth of knowledge in Spanish and Catalonian history as the Hong Kong/China counterpart, the focus of this article would instead be emphasized on my most favorite subject: sports, though specifically involves with what could happen if Catalonia moves forwards with their threats of declaring the region as a separate country.
The issue at hand, if being compared with other European countries, wouldn’t be fair as the time was rather different than the fall of the old Warsaw Pact. Back in the mid-1980s to the end of 1999, countries who parted ways with then-Soviet Union of Russia were more or less prepared to split from that system as their political culture have already moved towards independence, even though it was rather murky in the former Yugoslavia as the Serbians pleaded for unity with the Croats, Slovenians, and even Bosnia to no avail, thus resulting in years of warfares waged between Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia. In the sporting context, however, since most breakaway nations, if not all, had already been established as separate countries years prior, the only concern for the international sporting organizations would be how to organize withouth having them creating even more hatred, such as Russia and Ukraine, and the former Yugoslavian states; however, same cannot really similarly compared with Kosovo (that’s a different topic), and our subject of Catalonia and Spain as Catonian athletes and sporting clubs have competed as part of Spanish contingents for many, many decades in spite of their political differences and resentments as results of nearly 40-year iron-fist rules of General Francisco Franco, whom saw the rise of Real Madrid CF under Franco’s leadership during that period. Still, FC Barcelona have also enjoyed similar success in Spanish La Liga for many years, to the point that those two teams have become the symbols of Spanish dominance in football and other sports in European leagues, so much so that almost half of overall sporting revenues from sports clubs originated in Barcelona alone. Also, none of the Spanish football stadiums in the country are as big as FCB’s home stadium, Camp Nou, which can house more than 99,000 fans at any given time, particularly with their heated rival Real Madrid during “El Clásico” and UEFA Champions League matches, which dwarfs Real Madrid’s home field Santiago Bernabéu Stadium of 80,000 fans.
In addition, commercial holder of Bacelona sporting events have been labeling the city as part of Spain in spite of the above mentioned political difference. For instance, has any of the sporting organizations in this picture (left) ever been promoted the City of Barcelona as representing Catalonia the country? While it may sound like a rhetorical question, unless you have been living under a huge boulder for the last 40 years or more, this question has become even more relevant now than decades earlier as it hasn’t been raised before a few weeks ago. While some may argue that the Spanish Central Government has been oppressing such notions since the Franco era, however, hasn’t it occurred to you why I’ve brought all those organizations for this argument? Here are some of the names you may have heard and didn’t realize they were even born in Catalonia:
- Juan Antonio Samaranch, the late IOC (International Olympic Committee)
- Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, former World No. 1 professional tennis player
- Sergi Bruguera, 1993 -1994 French Open Tennis tournament winner
- Albert Costa, 2002 French Open Tennis tournament winner
- Marc Márquez, 3-time MotoGP winner (2013, 2014, 2016) – Repsol Honda Team
- Dani Pedrosa, Márquez’s teammate at Repsol Honda Team
- Carles Puyol (retired), Xavi Hernández (Al Sadd SC), Víctor Valdés (Middlesbrough FC), Pep Guardiola (head coach, Manchester City, formerly with Bayern Munich), Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Cesc Fàbregas,
- Roberto Martínez, former F.A. Cup winning manager for Wigan Athletic, former midfielder for Real Zaragoza and CF Balaguer
- Pau Gasol (San Antonio Spurs) and his brother Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies), both of whom have played for the Basketball section of FC Barcelona (FC Barcelona Bàsquet Lassa)
- Ricky Rubio (Utah Jazz)
- former F1 drivers Jaime Alguersuari, Marc Gené, Pedro Martínez de la Rosa
- Oriol Servià, former Champ Car/IndyCar and Formula E driver
If the negative crowd reactions towards Piqué and other Catalans who are playing for Spanish National Football team during October 6 World Cup qualifier as Spain hosted Albania at Estadio José Rico Pérez was an indication on how divisive on any potentiality on Catalonian independence movement, even after Spanish Central Government is attempting to pull the plug by invoking Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 in an effort to thwart the declaration by arresting the Catalonian officials, such declaration, if succeeded, would become even more problematic than being recognized by the international community in politics at large, which in itself has already been very complicated and problematic. For starter, La Liga has expressed their opposition of the independence movement and has threatened expulsion from the league if pressed ahead; UEFA also shares skepticism and threatens to expell FC Barcelona from Champions League. If that occurs, all Catalan clubs (Espanyol, Girona & Barcelona) – along with FCF (Catalan Football Federation) and other sporting entities – could face a series of challenges which included which league their would be allowed to join to stay in UEFA. For players – particularly with current Catalan players – in those clubs, potential loss of income and lack of competition times due to the potential expulsion could well be severely impacted as a result of the loss of financial institutions based in Catalonia, in addition, they would be subjected to pledge loyalty to Spain in support of unity. For FC Barcelona, in particular, since the club has other sporting departments as they have been playing in other European leagues such as Euroleague Basketball, CEV Champions League, and EHF Champions League, in both men and women divisions, the territory’s independence movement could cost the club’s spots for those championships, prize revenue, sponsorships and endorsements. Even with one particular racing circuit – Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – is not immune to this crisis as it hosts various forms of auto racing every year, events from Formula One to other formula racing, as well as MotoGP, they all have been labeled as Spanish Grand Prix while recognizing the area where the race is held. If Catalonia is granted independence, however, a potential breach of contract or other difficult negotiations could cost their rights to host the events. Such effects from potential expulsion would cause all the other sporting entities to take a stand as to whether they would accept Catalonia as a separate nation or remain as part of Spain.
In conclusion, while it’s not up to me to decide as I don’t live in Spain, never mind Catalonia, but as part of international sports fan, whatever happens between now till immediate future, I sincerely hope that Catalans would think of the sorts of consequences that could affect them if their independence plan persists to move forward. Sporting events that you have been hosting for decades, let it be warned, may not come around again, clubs would be plunging in enormous debts, players’ loyalties would definitely be tested like never before as they may never be as popular as they once were.