dijous, 6 d’octubre de 2011

Catalan National Teams

Citizens' Voice Series

Jordi Quintana
It is widely known that we Catalans have always been supportive of all kinds of sports, even though we can't compete in most international competitions to this day. What's most surprising is that Catalonia has always been one of the first countries to introduce and cultivate the practice of sports, even in the distant past, when all the available information used to come from newspapers and from far away places where people were beginning to practice funky sports.

Catalonia's love affair with all sports has a long tradition. In the early 20th century, Catalans began to create sports associations, way before Spaniards began to do so. Amongst these, we count some of the most popular sports nowadays, like tennis, soccer, and baseball. Catalonia even was one of the founding members of the Fédération Internationale de Rugby Amateur (FIRA), displaying a true interest in the practice of sports at a time when it did not have its current preeminence.

However, this desire for recognition, and the right to compete internationally, which countries like Spain, France, Germany, and even Scotland, England and the Faroe Islands have, is not recognized by the international organizations. They still deny us, mainly on political reasons, not on sports related grounds. It is true that if we had a government backing up the different associations, we would not need to find ways to participate on an individual basis.

Also, this desire is not just a selfish dream of a few self-proclaimed visionaries. Some twenty years ago, several associations working towards getting Catalan national teams (ADOCAssociació per a la Delegació Olímpica de Catalunya and Pro Seleccions catalanes) were able to gather half a million signatures in favor of Catalonia's participation in international competitions. This was at a time when the population in Catalonia was of six and a half million. Unfortunately, these efforts ended up amounting to nothing.

Catalonia has always looked for international recognition. This fact has never been put in question, not even at times when displaying Catalan symbols was plainly outlawed and punished. During Franco's dictatorship, Futbol Club Barcelona, where Messi, Iniesta and Xavi play nowadays, became the de facto representative of our national teams, mostly due to the countless encounters against eternal rival Real Madrid, which had become the regime's symbol. Although the first matches between these two teams lacked any political connotations, in time, the more they played together, the more their rivalry grew and they became estranged. This is how this enmity was created. An enmity between a team from the deep Spain, backed up by the dictatorship's establishment, and a team from the periphery, which did not only not go along with the regime's ideals, but which had become an outright rebellious team. It was thanks to this fact that Barça ended up being a symbol for a whole country, Catalonia.

At that point in history, right in the middle of a dictatorship, the Barça flag became a clear symbol of Catalonia. Displaying a Barça flag was equivalent to giving support to a repressed country. It was precisely during this time when Barça's president, Narcís de Carreras, coined the now legendary sentence: "Barça is more than a team." He said this in order to manifest that this team does not only serve its members, but a whole country.

Nowadays, this statement does not mean exactly the same. The contributions by FC Barcelona to international organizations have given the team a reputation for having great sensitivity towards charitable causes. People nowadays are allowed to display the Catalan flag in the stadiums with no consequences. However, we'd do well to remember that when the famous statement of "more than a team" is touted about at Camp Nou stadium, it's because behind this team there's a whole country that wants to go its own way.

Jordi Quintana.

Read other Citizens' Voice articles
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