Politics have hung over Spanish soccer for decades, dating back to the Civil War in the 1930s, but they have never been more on display in the modern era than on Sunday when La Liga's seventh round
coincided with Catalonia’s independence vote.
"Unbeaten and untied Barcelona, which backed the referendum, was scheduled to play Las Palmas from the Canary Islands but requested
that the game be postponed after the Guardia Civil, the Spanish police who had been a symbol of tyranny during the Franco era, tried to block voting and injured hundreds of Catalans in a violent
crackdown of the vote the Spanish government deemed illegal. (More than 2 million Catalans voted by a margin of 10-1 in favor of independence.)
The Spanish league refused
Barcelona's request and threatened to penalize it if it didn't play its game as scheduled. Barca chose to play and won, 3-0, to open up a five-point lead at the top of La Liga.
played the game behind closed doors, its slogan "Més que un club” ("more than a club") visible on the empty seats of the Camp Nou stadium in images broadcast around the world. It
made the decision just 25 minutes before kickoff with thousands of fans waiting outside the Camp Nou.
Barcelona players showed their support, wearing training shirts in the yellow-and-red
colors of the Estelada flag associated with Catalan independence. (Their opponents were firmly in the Spain camp, wearing shirts with the Spanish flag embroidered on them to show their support for
But it was not an easy decision to play -- two club vice presidents quit in protest -- and then play without their fans.
“Today was my worst experience
as a professional,” said Barcelona defender Gerard Pique
. “It was a tough day. I am and I feel Catalan, and I’ve never felt prouder of the people of
The Barcelona-born Pique, the most vocal supporter of the Catalan movement on Barca, cried as he talked about the violence. After the game, he left to join the Spanish
national team for its World Cup qualifiers, further putting him in the middle of the political conflict.
Pique, who has been jeered at Spanish national team games for his position on
Catalonia, said he wanted to continue to play for the national team -- "There are many people in Spain who disagree with what happened today and believe in democracy" -- but added that he'd retire if
Barcelona thought his participation was a problem.
Many Barca players are off to join their national teams -- Lionel Messi
's Argentine is in a desperate struggle to qualify for the
World Cup from South America -- but Barcelona declared that all its players -- down to its youth teams that include Americans Konrad De La Fuente
and Ben Lederman
-- will not train on
Tuesday in support of the regional "Table for Democracy" strike.
Girona, promoted to La Liga for the first time in 2017, also suspended practice for Tuesday, as did Espanyol, which as its
name suggests has been historically pro-Spain.