14 October 2014

Catalan vote to have profound consequences for Barcelona

Column for the UCC Express 14th October 2014

Despite the central government in Madrid’s shrill reaction and court rulings, Catalonia is set to go to the polls to vote on the independence question on the 9th of November. It’s an unprecedented move which could have huge ramifications for the Spanish state. The sporting consequences could be huge too.

Previously Barcelona’s then-president Sandro Rosell claimed that whatever the outcome of the vote, the Catalan giants would continue to play in the Spanish league. In the last week, however the league’s president waded into the debate.

“If Catalonia became independent”, Javier Tebas said “taking into account the Sports Law that would be enforced by the rest of Spain, Barcelona wouldn’t be allowed to play”. 

Neither would their cross-town rivals Espanyol.

Any future Catalan league would be stuffed by minnows and semi-professional teams. Girona, Llagostera and Sabadell all play in Spain’s second flight but none of these sides could feasibly put up any sort of competition to the two Barcelona clubs

The blow would be a heavy one too for the Spanish League. Overseas television rights- which stall lag those of England’s Premier League considerably- draw in large part from the global appeal of the big two. Atlético Madrid may be the current champions but no one would kid themselves that the capital club have the same cache.

Global viewers are drawn by the spectacle and the story and glory of Barcelona and Real Madrid. The clásico is amongst the biggest sporting events in the world with fans from India to Iowa locking their attention to this bitter rivalry.

It’s an outcome neither club would want as so much of their identity is bound with their rivalry. Even Florentino Pérez, Real Madrid’s president, concedes as much when he quipped “If Barcelona didn’t exist we’d have to invent them”. Between the pair, they account for 40% of the league’s current television revenue.

One solution from left field has been mooted. Should Catalonia secede, reports in the Spanish press last week claimed that Barcelona might chance their arm at entering France’s Ligue 1. That Monaco already play there is a precedent, but one imagines any moves to admit the blaugrana would be torpedoed by UEFA.

With so many Catalan players having played a central role in Spain’s recent success it would also be a massive loss to the Spanish national side. But that many- most vocally Gerard Piqué- have  come out in favour of an independent Catalonia says a lot for the mood on the ground in the eastern region.