The celebrations that followed Spain’s 4-0 victory over Italy in Kiev took on a political subtext that sparked a heated debate on social networking sites. Moments after receiving their prize from UEFA President Michel Platini, Gerard Piqué and Cesc Fabregas posed for the waiting photographers, draping the Henri Delauny Trophy with the Senyera Catalana, the national flag of Catalunya. Their actions were rushed and awkward, as though they were aware of the response their actions would provoke. The offending flag was then draped around the neck of Xaví Hernandez, around whom the 8-man-strong FC Barcelona contingent grouped for a later photo-opportunity.
Almost instantly, comments criticising and insulting the players were posted on twitter.
|A small selection of the offending tweets.|
Many took to the micro-blogging site to point out the glaring hypocrisy of such comments, as many other players also wore the flags of their own respective autonomous regions; Sergio Ramos from Andalucia, David Silva from the Canary Isles and captain Iker Casillas with the flag of the Comunidad de Madrid. Yet it was the actions of the Catalan players alone that drew the vitriol of Twitter users.
This is not the first time that the Catalan flag has landed players in the centre of controversy. In 2011 Cesc Fabregas was forced to take to twitter and apologise to those offended by his display of the Estelada, a variation of the flag that carries communist and pro-independence connotations.
Yet this new victory for the Spanish national team has reinvigorated the debate surrounding the sporting representation of Catalunya. As with every success that the La Roja Furia achieves with its squad so full of Catalan talent, a new trophy and a new record will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of many Catalan independentistes. Since the Catalan national selection is denied official status and restricted to inconsequential and sporadic friendly fixtures, all hope for footballing pride and glory lies with the de facto Catalan national team, FC Barcelona. After a disappointing season which saw them fall at the semi-final stage of the Champions League and lose the Spanish league title to arch rivals Real Madrid, an international Spanish victory achieved with the collusion of Barcelona players is a bitter pill to swallow. For many in Catalunya, to be Catalan and play for Spain is nothing short of treason and this late lip-service paid to the Senyera did nothing absolve such a betrayal. Author Quim Monzó has said that he will renounce his membership of FC Barcelona next season in protest, while Barcelona ex-vicepresident Alfons Godall writes: “the fault is our own for not having our own state!”.
|Barcelona's ex-vicepresident weighs in on the debate|
In this instance, like countless others in the world of sport, it is impossible to enjoy the spectacle aside from its political connotations. For those proud Spaniards that exalt above all a single, united Spain, the sight of a national hero suggesting that their is not as unified as they believe is galling. Equally it sickens many a proud Catalan to see their own national heroes playing under the flag of a state that they oppose, when the glory should belong to a national team of Catalunya. Yet for all of the political complexities, one undeniable fact remains; without the Catalan players at the heart of its squad, Spain would be a shadow of the record-breaking team we see today.