Spain: The Prospect of Catalonia Competing On Its Own

On June 21, in a must-win match against Honduras in the 2010 World Cup, Spanish defender Gerard Pique was a picture of patriotic mettle. A dive for a header had bloodied his lip. An opponent’s pass, intercepted too low for comfort, gave Pique's gait a tender hitch. A cotton bandage flapped loose over his temple: in an earlier match, a rival’s boot had smacked him upside the head. By the end of the match, Pique looked horrible, but appropriately so: every inch the young hero, leaving his skin on the field for his country.

The only question was: which country?

In Catalonia, the northeast region where Pique is from, a desire for a Catalan “national” team has provoked ambivalence with Spain's favored team. Much of it is gathering at a Facebook page, which one can characterize as dedicated to Catalan's pride in their impressive soccer tradition, or whining over their lack of recognition, depending on your point of view:

Commenter NaniBcn, writing in Catalan, says:

Preparem-nos per la españolada que se'ns ve a sobre amb la roja. Ni que juguessin 11 catalans, mai aniria amb una seleccion en nom d'un altre país.

Get prepared for the españolada [a huge spanish exaltation] that is looming with “la roja”. Even if there were 11 Catalan players in the team, I would never support a team in another country's name.

Photo by cvander and used under a Creative Commons license.

Amid the flag waving of a World Cup, a person from Barcelona calling Spain “another country's name” can seem strange. The Catalan Fútbol Association has argued that precedents exist: Wayne Rooney plays for England, under the St. George's Cross flag, not for the United Kingdom, or a Union Jack. Among Spain's victim’s on the way to qualifying for this month’s finals was a team from the little-known Faroe Islands — officially not an independent nation, a part of Denmark, but competing independently.

Complicating matters, this year's Spanish team, current champions of Europe, count as many as half its starting players as Catalans. If Catalonia had it’s own team, not just Pique, but several more of the world’s best players would wear its shirt, and the tiny province of eight million would have a fair shot at taking on giants like Brazil, Germany, and, controversially, Spain itself. In a friendly match last year, the Catalan team beat Argentina, currently undefeated in South Africa, 4-2. The previous year they'd beaten Colombia, a former World Cup finals participant.

The tantalizing possibilities have provoked, for some at least, frustration. At the pro-Catalan Facebook page, supporter José Antonio Castells refers, with a humorous touch, to “our players” getting hurt playing for a foreign country – Spain.

Per a que volem selecció espanyola? Per a que se'ns lesionin els jugadors?

Why do we want a Spanish national team? To get our players hurt?

It's far from a universal feeling. Also via Facebook, a group of pro-Roja fans in Catalonia is calling for the city government in Catalonia's capital, Barcelona, to mount a giant screen in the city's largest plaza to view the matches. The Mayor's office, moving with notable indifference, authorized the groups calling for the screens to use the plaza, but told them to do it themselves [es].

Inevitably, those emotions have helped regional sports politics bleed, like Pique's split lip, into regular politics. Online, a Catalan body, the National Team Platform, has already established Catalan teams in twenty sports, including rugby and indoor soccer, and argued that international sports federations, rather than local governments, should decide which teams are allowed to compete. Soccer’s governing body, FIFA, which hosts the World Cup, disagrees. FIFA maintains a policy of granting entrance only to independent nations recognized by the United Nations. But the reasoning is often hard to follow, and inconsistent, argues Geocurrents

After a few head scratchers with the continental groupings, the real fun starts when you get into the areas that begin to call into question the difference between a country and a state. FIFA really gets interesting when you look into the provisional members of the Nouvelle Nouvelle Fédération-Board, whose members are composed of people without states, new states, and sovereign territories. FIFA has its eyes on would-be states, to assist their international recognition on the pitch, should the receive international recognition. Their list of provisional members is an impressive list of obscuro-geography: The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Casamance, Western Sahara, Yap (a Micronesian state), Zanzibar, Sardinia, the Kingdom of the two Sicilies, Easter Island, Maasai, and the micrnoation of Sealand all have made inroads with FIFA through this program for future membership.

The sentiment is common enough in Catalonia that an online effort, Plataforma Pro, has attempted, with limited success, to raise the issue. The group has recruited Catalonia’s former President and the incoming President of Barcelona’s professional soccer team to support it’s cause.

Much of the discussion has occurred offline, in bars and plazas. In l'Espluga de Francoli, an olive farming town two hours from Barcelona, you could hear firecrackers following the two goals that the national team scored during the match against Honduras, and at the end of the match, to celebrate the victory. But the celebrations came from the local Real Madrid supporters’ club, which supports Madrid's team in the Spanish League. The club for Barcelona's supporters, didn't carry out any special event, although many of Barcelona's players had been on the field for the national team's win.

At the Facebook group, Catalonia support Daniel Llopis said that he thinks Spain is going to win the whole tournament, and tried to manage his dismay:

Les coses com són, qui té més probabilitats de guanyar el mundial és la selecció de l'estat espanyol (ja m'agradaria que perdés tots els partits fins que no reconeguin la selecció catalana).

Things being what they are, who has the best chance of winning the world cup is the national team of the Spanish country (I would like them to lose all the matches until a Catalan national team is recognized).

I l'Espluga de Francoli, an older gentleman, who declined to give his name, was somewhat more curt:

“De ponent, ni gent ni vent,” he told GV. “From the West, neither people nor wind.”

Madrid is to Catalonia's west.

Reporting by Merce’ Badia. English text by Marc Herman and Merce’ Badia.


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