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How significantly has Barcelona Football Club contributed to the cause of Catalan Independence? (Written in 2014)

 

Abstract:

Sport appears understudied within nationalist literature and ignoring sporting institutions could lead to a lack of full understanding as to why nationalist movements gather momentum or are sustained.  Within Spain, there is not one nation, instead it is a ‘nation of nations’ with Catalonia being one nation where there is a growing majority desiring independence from Spain.  Within the capital city of Catalonia, Barcelona, Barcelona Football Club is situated and despite the club’s public stance of neutrality, this dissertation aims to uncover how Barcelona FC does significantly contribute to the cause of Catalan independence.  In a direct sense the club has been run by men who aspire for an independent Catalonia and from these men key decisions made by the club have favoured Catalonia, directly at Spain’s expense.  Such decisions include the promotion of the Catalan culture and national symbols.  Indirectly, the club has had great success on the pitch which has attracted fans to the Catalan club.  Ultimately, these factors combined with the pre-existing atmosphere of growing popularity for independence within Catalonia, has meant Barcelona FC does significantly contribute to the cause of independence.

 

Introduction:

The Catalonian region of Spain is home to a nationalist movement so enamoured, that it is illustrative of the ongoing nationalist struggles that are surprisingly widespread throughout the modern world; irrespective of the cries for the ‘end of nationalism’ echoed by many prominent political scholars (Beiner, 1999, p.27).  Majorly, the land and population size of the Catalonian region is remarkably similar to that of Switzerland; occupying 32,000km² with a population of 7.5m compared to Switzerland’s respective 41,000km² and 7.9m.  This is paramount to highlighting the fact that Catalonia, as it stands, is not too small to become an independent state (Sala-i-Martin, 1998).  In fact, prior to 1714, Catalonia did stand as an independent state, however, since this time, it has not been independent and instead an asset of the Spanish state.  This year marks the three hundredth anniversary of the Spanish acquisition of Catalonia and its involuntary membership of the Spanish state (Tree, 2011).

 

Over the course of the three hundred years of oppression, Catalonian nationalism, as an ideal, has been largely suppressed.  Notably, Franco’s fascist regime from 1939-1975, was particularly oppressive to the Catalan people, for example, they placed a legal ban upon any regional nationalism (Greer, 2007, p.18).  Yet, after the dictatorship fell, a newly democratic Spain took somewhat of a softer approach towards nationalism and the expressions of nationalist feelings were largely tolerated.  Although originally, after 1975, Catalan nationalism was centred upon a desire to be an autonomous region in Spain, it is now focused upon gaining full independence from Spain (Lluch, 2010).  Since this time, the nationalist movement has gathered increasing pace, with the percentage of Catalonian citizens in favour of independence mounting steadily (Rull, 2013).  A recent poll within Catalonia has revealed that, 52.3% of the people would vote to leave Spain, just 30.4% of the population would vote to stay within Spain and the remaining percentage are undecided (Rico, 2013).  These figures, in light of the potential 2014 referendum with regards to independence, are particularly powerful (Rico, 2013).  The rising pressure for independence has been reflected in the Catalan parliament itself; namely, separatist parties dominate the regional parliament and the CiU (Convergence and Union party) is currently in government within; pleading with the Spanish government for an independence referendum.

 

Ultimately, the independence movement is founded upon, historical; linguistic; cultural; economical and sporting grounds (Gibson, 2012).  This nationalist movement is well documented within political literature (Balcells, 1996; Llobera, 1983; Llobera, 1990).  Yet perhaps the most neglected area of analysis is the significant role of Barcelona Football Club (Barça) within the Catalan separatist movement.

 

Barcelona Football Club was established in 1899 as a major football club within the capital city of Catalonia; Barcelona. It did not take a long time for the club to achieve success on the pitch, with their first trophy coming in 1903.  Since this time, the club have won over one hundred trophies, a feat made possible through the vast array of talent the club has had at its disposal.  Since the turn of the twenty-first century, the levels of success have been phenomenal, with the likes of; Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernàndez leading the team.  In addition to this, the football club has a fierce and historic rivalry with Real Madrid which has resulted in multiple epic encounters over the years (Fitzepatrick, 2012).  Yet, aside from this rivalry and great success, what makes Barça unique is that it is more than a club, as the motto of the club states, ‘més que un club’.  It may be a football club primarily but, also a social institution with an undeniable relationship with the people of Catalonia (Nili, 2009, p.259).

 

This dissertation will aim to advance the literature regarding the two topics of; Catalan separatism and Barcelona FC, through identifying the contributions Barcelona FC has upon the Catalan independence movement, aiming to uncover whether there is an intrinsic link.  Despite the fact that the official position of the club is one of neutrality, this dissertation will argue that over the last decade the club has directly and indirectly contributed to the independence cause.  This dissertation will also highlight the wider importance of sport within political life, especially how sport is, or can be made to be, linked to nationalism (Hargreaves, 2000).

 

Primarily, a multi-method design of content analysis will be implemented, with secondary sources being supported by primary sources, including three personal, first-hand interviews.  Content analysis was pioneered in the 1940s by Alfred Lindesmith, as a solution to the study of communication.  This technique was popular throughout the Second World War and once again during the Cold War (Burnham, 2004, p.222).  A proposed definition of content analysis is, “who says what; to whom; how and with what effect? … [And] why?” (Holsti, 1969, p.24).  More recently it has been defined as, “the systematic counting; assessing and interpreting of the form and substance of communication (Babb, 2012, p.201).  Ultimately, content analysis involves the analysis of communication (Burnham, 2004, p.236).

 

Content analysis is most effective if multiple sources are examined and therefore a broad range of views are encountered.  Hence, for this dissertation, many sources, books; journals and articles will be analysed.  In addition to using secondary source analysis, I shall also utilise some primary source analysis to support my findings in the secondary source analysis.  Such primary sources will include; email interviews, face to face interviews, news reports and press conferences.  Whilst researching for this dissertation, I undertook three face-to-face interviews; the first was with Graham Hunter, an author and leading sports journalist, with two books published on Barcelona FC and the Spanish national football team, who works for ESPN and Sky Sports News.  The second interview was with the CiU secretary, Josep Rull.  Mr Rull occupies the ‘number two’ position within the CiU party, the party in government within the regional parliament of Catalonia.  The third interview was with Barcelona FC board member, Ramon Garriga.  These interviews offered an up-to-date insight into the club, the independence movement and the relationship between the two.  The advantage of these interviews was that I was able to gather relevant information not found in secondary sources (Berelson, 1952, p.53; Burnham, 2004, p.211).

 

Before discussing arguments for and against whether Barcelona Football Club contributes to Catalan independence, it is first important to provide some context as to why there is a Catalan independence movement and what historical factors have enabled Barça to become a primary supporter of the Catalan nation.  In chapter 1, nationalism in Spain and Catalonia will be explored, highlighting the fragmented nature of Spain as a nation which has enabled the Catalan independence movement to flourish.  Chapter 2 will aim to bridge nationalism and sport, highlighting their interrelationship.  Particularly, I shall discuss how football was politicised in Spain during Franco’s dictatorship and thus how Barça has become intertwined with the Catalan nation.  Following this, Chapter 3 shall highlight arguments for and against whether Barça has significantly contributed to Catalan independence.  Towards the end of the dissertation I shall conclude that the club has indirectly and directly contributed to the independence sentiments within the region of Catalonia.

 

By Ian Harper