Football: Clasico independence flags infuriate Madrid gov't

But fans' homage to Catalonia turns into homage to sport, press

08 October, 17:17

(ANSAmed) - MADRID, OCTOBER 8 - The Catalan independence flags and chants at yesterday's Barcelona-Real Madrid football match ''give the country a bad name and are prejudicial to the country brand,'' Spanish Foreign Minister Jose' Manuel Garcia-Margallo said at a seminar on the country brand on Monday.

The minister deplored that ''this image of internal division instead of shared effort, was projected in front of an audience of millions, at a time of convulsion, when the entire world is competing for scarce capital. Exactly the opposite of the transition from dictatorship to democracy, which gave an image of a united country, of a common effort and a shared future.'' However, Monday coverage of yesterday's enthralling 2-2 draw at Camp Nou in the first Liga Clasico of the season diverged from the government line, with some newspapers celebrating it as ''an armistice'' between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Worldwide, 400 million viewers watched as the traditional pre-match mosaic, organized by the club, became a senyera, or Catalan flag, made up of 98,000 people holding up yellow and red cards. When the stadium clock ticked up to 17 minutes and 14 seconds, up went the chant from the stadium: ''Independence! Independence!'' The year 1714 was the end of the siege of Barcelona, when the city was defeated by the Bourbons.

One Barcelona newspaper called it ''a splendid civics lesson from the stands, in which only the ignorant will spy a fire where there was only fandom writ large.'' The match turned into ''a loudspeaker for secessionism,'' commented El Mundo, while conservative ABC newspaper decried ''all this foolishness around football, which only distracts the players from what is really important.'' The deeds of strikers Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo did more than all the political circumstances around the championship duel, ABC went on. Including the presence of former Israel soldier and Hamas prisoner turned sportswriter Gilat Shalit and the Gaza protests that preceded him, the public transportation strike in Barcelona, the FC Barcelona employees strike, and the independence flags on the stands. (ANSAmed).

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