Civil un­rest across Cat­alo­nia puts el clas­sico un­der threat

▶ La Liga ask for next week’s Barcelona v Real match be moved from Camp Nou to Madrid af­ter three days of vi­o­lence hits cities in the Span­ish re­gion

The National - News - - SPORT FOOTBALL - ANDY MITTEN

A fa­ther car­ries his baby from his apart­ment which he fears will be en­gulfed by flames. Blaz­ing rub­bish bins and cars are used as roads blocks in ma­jor cities around Cat­alo­nia.

Acid bombs and bricks are thrown at riot po­lice, who fire rub­ber bul­lets and charge at pro­test­ers. Fire­works are launched at po­lice he­li­copters.

Barcelona has been hit with three nights of protests and vi­o­lence from Cata­lan sep­a­ratists fol­low­ing the jail­ing of nine po­lit­i­cal lead­ers for hold­ing an il­le­gal ref­er­en­dum.

Those nine lead­ers were handed sen­tences of 13 more years on Mon­day for sedi­tion and mis­use of pub­lic funds re­lat­ing to the 2017 ref­er­en­dum which saw a voter turnout of 42 per cent.

Cata­lans want­ing in­de­pen­dence are fu­ri­ous and have taken to the streets. The vast ma­jor­ity of the pro­test­ers are peace­ful, but they have spilled into vi­o­lence each night.

Pro­test­ers also be­sieged the air­port on Mon­day and a 62-year-old French­man died from a heart at­tack af­ter pas­sen­gers, in­clud­ing Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic, walked up to three kilo­me­tres to the ter­mi­nal.

A gen­eral strike is planned for Fri­day in the re­gion and the wide­spread civil dis­rup­tion is again hav­ing an im­pact on the sport­ing cal­en­dar.

The Cata­lan Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion can­celled all games on Mon­day out of sol­i­dar­ity with the pris­on­ers – though no ma­jor games were sched­uled to take place – while Barcelona planned to leave for this week­end’s game at Eibar a day early.

Against a back­drop of civil un­rest and more planned protests, the first cla­sico of the sea­son be­tween Barcelona and Real Madrid sched­uled for Oc­to­ber 26 at Camp Nou is un­der threat.

All the 99,000 tick­ets have been sold and a global tele­vi­sion au­di­ence of 650 mil­lion are ex­pected to watch but the Sports Coun­cil of the Span­ish gov­ern­ment is un­der­stood not to want the game to take place in Barcelona.

La Liga has also asked the Span­ish Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion’s Com­pe­ti­tion com­mit­tee to move the game to Madrid’s Bern­abeu sta­dium cit­ing “ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances be­yond our con­trol.” The com­mit­tee – made up of one rep­re­sen­ta­tive each from the league and fed­er­a­tion and one in­de­pen­dent mem­ber – will an­nounce its de­ci­sion on Wed­nes­day, just three days be­fore the game.

Fans have booked to travel to the match from around the world.

If the game is changed, the sec­ond Cla­sico sched­uled for March 1 would be moved to Camp Nou.

Barca, who along with for­mer play­ers Xavi Her­nan­dez and Pep Guardi­ola con­demned the sen­tences handed to lead­ers of the Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence move­ment, in­tend to re­sist the change of venue.

They have yet to say any­thing pub­licly, but they will present their case to the com­mit­tee.

The Span­ish cham­pi­ons have faced sim­i­lar is­sues be­fore. They played a league game against Las Pal­mas be­hind closed doors on Oc­to­ber 1 2017, the day of the ref­er­en­dum in Cat­alo­nia and the sub­se­quent failed bid for in­de­pen­dence.

The Cata­lan club, who have ties to the Cata­lan po­lit­i­cal move­ment, re­leased a state­ment on Mon­day that “prison is not the so­lu­tion” and that it was “more im­por­tant than ever that po­lit­i­cal fig­ures lead a process of dia­logue and ne­go­ti­a­tion to re­solve the con­flict, and that they grant the free­dom of the con­demned civil and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers”.

In­de­pen­dence chants are heard af­ter ex­actly 17 min­utes and 14 sec­onds – the year in which Cat­alo­nia lost the War of Suc­ces­sion and have been part of Spain since – at ev­ery Barca home game.

They in­crease in vol­ume at sen­si­tive mo­ments like now, while large ban­ners in English are un­furled at kick off.

As the Cham­pi­ons League an­them was played be­fore the re­cent game against In­ter Mi­lan, a 15-me­tre ban­ner read: ‘Only dic­ta­tor­ships jail peace­ful po­lit­i­cal lead­ers.’

The au­thor­i­ties fear that the cla­sico could be hi­jacked, with the huge in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence view­ing the mass protest.

With the sit­u­a­tion on the streets be­com­ing in­creas­ingly febrile, the events over the next few days will shape whether the Camp Nou cla­sico is to be re­lo­cated.

What­ever way the de­ci­sion goes, it will gen­er­ate enor­mous con­tro­versy.

All 99,000 tick­ets have been sold and a global tele­vi­sion au­di­ence of 650 mil­lion is ex­pected to tune in

AFP; Reuters

Stu­dents with the Cata­lan sep­a­ratist flags and rib­bons, above, protest out­side Barcelona po­lice head­quar­ters

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