Amid uncertainty in Catalonia, another worry: the fate of its beloved soccer team – Los Angeles Times
The tattoo on Ricard Aguilar’s right calf is the shield of Futbol Club Barcelona, a team that rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, revels in a cult-like following worldwide and forms a pillar of this city’s identity.
“Barça is my passion,” said Aguilar, a 52-year-old car mechanic, using an informal name for his team and his city, the capital of Catalonia — the prosperous northeastern region of Spain that on Friday declared independence.
Aguilar said he feels more Catalan than Spanish and supported the move.
But regardless of where residents of this city of 1.6 million stand on that question, most people can rally around the beloved 118-year-old soccer team.
From Madrid, which happens to be the home of the team’s chief rival, Real Madrid, Spain’s central government quickly rebuffed the independence declaration and ousted the region’s government.
With demonstrations and strikes planned over the next few days, Catalonia’s future remains uncertain — as is the future of FC Barcelona in the powerful Spanish soccer league, La Liga.
The team’s president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, has expressed a desire to remain in the league regardless of whether Catalonia separates from Spain.
La Liga president Javier Tebas, on the other hand, has said it would be impossible to permit a non-Spanish team to play in the league.
Several Barcelona fans interviewed Saturday said they could not fathom a Spanish soccer league without its top-earning club, one of the richest teams in all of professional sports, with earnings of $770 million this year.
“There is too much economic interest,” said Joan Grau, a 47-year-old Barcelona fan kicking a soccer ball with his son near the parliament building. He said he opposes independence but doesn’t feel that he has much of a voice in Spain’s government either.
Wellington Sanchez, an engineer from Colombia who fulfilled a years-long dream by visiting the team’s stadium complex Camp Nou on Saturday, said the team is simply too important to be kicked out of the league.
“I don’t think it’s just a Catalan team,” Sanchez said. “It’s a world team.”
Still, the team is indelible to the region identity. One team jersey is a version of the Catalan flag, and the history of FC Barcelona is deeply intertwined with the Catalan independence movement. During the Spanish Civil War, troops operating under General Francisco Franco killed club president Josep Sunyol i Garriga, a prominent politician in favor of Catalonian independence.
Soccer could also feature in the current showdown between Catalonia and the central government.
The next match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid is scheduled to take place in Madrid on Dec. 20 — a day before elections are to be held in Catalonia to replace the government that was ousted Friday.