A favorite Twitter commentator brought something to mind this morning in posting a very good editorial about the club and its stance, or lack thereof, as the September 11 pro-independence (or pro-choice, dependent upon whether you like waffles) day looms.
Many people come to Barça for the football. I would reckon that most come to the team for the football, and think of the club and team as one, rather than the former being a representative of the latter, an umbrella that encompasses everything from many other professional sporting teams to charitable/human rights efforts and other enterprises. And if all you care about IS the football, stop reading now.
Over the years, it’s safe to say that few phrases have been misunderstood, misused and misidentified more than “mes que un club.” This is what the club has to say about “mes que un club.” It isn’t sanctimony or any sort of misplaced virtuousness. Simply put, it is what the club represents to its members and in general as a Catalan institution. This identity became solidified during the difficult political times before, during and after the revolution, when the stadium became a place of open rebellion where people spoke a banned language.
1936 marks the real year of the psychological inception of the phrase, the year club president Josep Sunyol was assassinated. Politics have, until recently, been inextricable from the club, from when the Senyera was banned from the crest as a political statement to when its former coach, Pep Guardiola, spoke out at a press conference on the matter when confronted about his choice of Catalan and dealing with Catalan journalists, saying “we are a country with its own language.”
During his New York sabbatical Guardiola added via video message, “Here is one more vote for independence.”
President Josep Bartomeu will be attending an important September 11 pro-referendum rally in a personal capacity rather than as a club representative, a move that is either shrewd or bollocks, depending upon one’s view of the matter.
— He’s the president of the club. Everything that he does is done with that in mind. so the club is taking a stance simply by his attending.
— It’s a waffle by a group more concerned with keeping the money flowing but not damaging its political base. They get credit for the president attending, but don’t have to take a stand.
In 2012, the club did take a stance on Catalan language education:
“Our language, like our club, is an element of integration which permits us to identify with our country (Catalonia),” the club said. Note that the statement says “country,” rather than autonomous region, which is in and of itself a political statement, if you read it closely.
Players are another matter, and are usually averse to taking a political stance for many of the same reasons that corporations shy away from such things — might damage the brand. Notable exceptions include Oleguer and most recently Puyol. Xavi has raised eyebrows by draping himself in a Catalan flag during Spain football celebrations.
But the club has never really taken an overt stand on the matter of Catalan independence, even as the question has been brewing since the movement was in a nascent state. Logically, you can see why it wouldn’t. Nothing to gain, so much to lose. Is there a reason somebody in Asia would support an avowedly Catalan club, as Barça suddenly becomes political? How would sponsors view an entity that sits on the wrong side of the Spanish government? If there is violence or other strife as a consequence of the movement, the club becomes painted with that brush and the potential damage is immense.
Further, matches can become platforms for statements outside of and more vehement than pro-Indy chants that arise at specified times during matches. It’s very clear to see exactly, and logically why the club has to tread very, very carefully here. But you can’t wrap yourself in a senyera cloak then claim it’s because you got a chill.
In my opinion that the time has come for the club to get off the fence, and say that it is for a people’s right to choose. It’s a personal view rooted in little more than my dimwitted views as the resident Pollyanna on such matters. The support of the club is a potential tipping point that might sway some undecideds, which is also a very real danger in the club taking a stance on the matter as it would automatically be seen as a leader in the pro-independence movement, which has incorrectly become synonymous with being in favor of a people’s right to choose. The difference is, however, more than semantic.
But if FC Barcelona is a Catalan institution, how can it stand by when the future of Catalonia as an independent country is at issue? Conviction involves risk. Rosell ran on a platform rooted in Catalanisme, a cloak rather rapidly discarded after the election, when it was time to line up multinational sponsors and he had money to keep him warm. And yet it’s a valid ask whether Barça can, at this time, truly and fully be a Catalan institution AND a giant multinational.
Does a business based in Catalonia (which I have in the past asserted that Barça is becoming) have the obligation to take a stand on the right to choose? No. But that business based in Catalonia does not have the layers of meaning associated with it that FC Barcelona does, from an assassinated president and Catalan being spoken illegally at matches, to a senyera away kit. Barça is even considered by many to be the de facto Catalan national team. Catalan is the club’s language (even if not on the pitch and in meetings), the flag is on the shirt along with the slogan, “mes que un club.” How many other teams so overtly incorporate a national flag into a shirt design?
You can’t grab something without touching it, and that sometimes means getting your hands dirty. You can’t fire up the masses by saying “Visca Barça, visca Catalunya” without having some skin in the game.
For me, I think the reluctance to take a stand has a few roots:
— It could affect sponsorship, as corporations aren’t political.
— Does the club REALLY want an independent Catalonia, as suddenly the whole Liga question will be asked.
— If the bottom line is affected by taking a stand, what will that mean for the sporting and stadium projects?
Nonetheless, at an important time you have to risk getting your hands dirty. And I don’t believe that Barça, a Catalan institution that purports to fully embraces the roots of its own “mes que un club” slogan has avoidance as an option. You can’t stand on the sidelines. Because now more than ever for many Barça supporters who love the club, it is NOT just about football. Not any more.