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Barcelona - Real Madrid, yet another victim

On Sunday 1 October 2017 politics in its worst form took centre stage in the dressing room at the Camp Nou. There, the players debated over whether or not they should play their match against Las Palmas, amid a climate of insecurity caused by the violent incidents which took place during the illegal independence referendum. Barcelona, under pressure from the independence movement, were tempted to suspend the match, despite the security forces’ assessment that there was no reason to. “We’ve decided to play it behind closed doors so the world can see how we’re suffering and what the situation in Catalonia is”, said the club president, Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Messi: "We're footballers"

What Bartomeu didn’t say is that in the dressing room, a while earlier, as the players were discussing the matter, Messi, by his locker, took the floor, and, to complete silence, asked his friend Suárez: “Luis, what are you?”. “What do you mean?”, replied the Uruguayan. “What are you, you and I, all of us here?”, said the Argentinean. “Footballers?”, said Suárez. “Yes, footballers - and on Sundays we play”, concluded Messi. The match was played and Barça won 3-0 with the stands painfully empty.

Violence in Barcelona threatens the Clásico

Once again politics in its worst form has intruded on football, this time in relation to the Barça-Real Madrid Clásico, set to be played on 26 October at the Camp Nou. LaLiga has asked the Spanish FA’s Competition Committee to move the game to the Bernabéu in the face of a wave of violence taking place across Barcelona. The Government’s view, given by way of the Spanish National Sports Council, is that it is not “reasonable” for the game to be played on this date at Barça’s ground, without clarifying, however, whether it would prefer the game to be postponed or moved. It’s not clear whether the argument Messi used back on that 1 October is going to be useful this time around, but what is without a doubt is that the mere discussion over whether the game should be played or not at the Camp Nou is a success for those who have decided to upset peaceful day-to-day life in Catalonia. And it has the feeling of a defeat, even if moving or postponing the game is justified, to those who right now want to impose their politics by way of verbal and physical violence.

But as almost always happens in these situations, the supposed success of those who practice violence contains within it the poison of their failure. The Clásico is one of the few planetary-sized windows through which Catalonia and Spain can show themselves to the world. It’s a unique opportunity to display values of tolerance, solidarity, peaceful coexistence… The Clásico is by far the biggest showcase of an unrivalled success story: of having the two best teams in the world, year after year, game after game. Being forced to suspend, postpone or change it benefits nobody. And it hurts, a lot, the image of the city of Barcelona. If the Clásico is moved from the Camp Nou, or postponed because security officials recommend it - even if the decision is in the hands of the Competition Committee it will be police chiefs who tip the balance, particularly if that’s what the government wants - then Barcelona will end up twinned with Buenos Aires as a city where football fears to tread. With no small dose of wry humour, the Argentineans have taken note of the situation and demanded this Clásico be played in their country as reimbursement for the River-Boca match of December 2018, the final of the Copa Libertadores that was played in Madrid after security problems in Argentina.

Barcelona - Real Madrid should be played at the Camp Nou

Those who run sport in Spain have a very delicate matter before them. The opposition of the clubs to the change of venue is legitimate. It alters the competition and leads to logistical problems. But nor are the fears of LaLiga, the Federation and the Government a minor matter. Are the Catalan authorities able to guarantee the safety of the Clásico when they are led by a president, Joaquim Torra, who has spurred on the protests and took 48 hours to condemn what’s been happening over the past few days? The Clásico is an opportunity for those who want to attract the world’s attention to their claims. The decision over whether to play it, which should be done on purely technical and security grounds to avoid any suspicion, has an unavoidable political element. It’s a good opportunity to gauge the stature of a number of leaders, executives and extremists… Barça-Real Madrid should be played at the Camp Nou, always provided the requisite guarantees are in place. Anything else - suspending the match or there being incidents before, during or after it - would be a disgrace. Football, by extension, would become yet another victim of the disaster unfolding in Catalonia. The hope is that the final decision could be as simple as Messi’s reflection back on that 1 October 2017 in the Camp Nou dressing room. But, sadly, the procés has already poisoned the Clásico.