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a league apart new photo
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A league apart 2
If Barça opted to leave the Spanish football league, a domino-effect of significant consequences would transpire. Photo by Michaela Xydi.
Catalunya’s push for independence is gathering speed, but the domino effect for one of the region’s most adored symbols remains surrounded by uncertainty. Will FC Barcelona have to leave the Spanish football league system if the region gains independence?
On every September 11th in Catalunya, locals flood the streets to celebrate their national day with senyeres aloft in honour of the Catalan troops who perished during the War of the Spanish Succession. Last year saw the largest turnout ever recorded; 1.5 million people turned up for the rally to demonstrate their desire for a self-governed independent nation, believing that their vision is ever more feasible as Spain’s economy worsens by the day.
While there is still much work to be done for the Catalans to get their wish, the case for independence has ignited another important argument which continues to be debated without much clarity: what would happen to one of the region’s most proud emblems, FC Barcelona, in an independent Catalunya? Would they still be allowed to remain in the Spanish football league system or would they have to take part in a newly-formed Catalan national league?
One of those in attendance last September 11th was club president Sandro Rosell who, when confronted with the question on live television, stated with absolute confidence that Barça will remain in the Spanish league system regardless of Catalunya’s future on a political level. His response was, “If Catalunya were independent one day, Barça would still play in the Spanish league. I have no doubt about it. We would play in Spain, just like Monaco does in France.”
However, Monaco cannot be compared to Catalunya for a number of reasons. Despite the fact that Monaco (an independent nation) continues to play in the French football league, there is a distinct difference between Catalunya and Monaco: Catalunya would desire to join UEFA and FIFA in order to compete in official tournaments and the European Union. Monaco, on the other hand, does not have a national team and does not intend to join the EU. Ultimately, current rules follow that each UEFA member must have its own national league. Rosell’s response led many to believe that Catalunya would have to create their own league and Barça be excluded from the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) but this is not the case. While shadowing the fate of Monaco may not be in Barça’s best interest, it is possible that FC Andorra’s experience provides a bit more clarity. Andorra established their football federation in 1994 and joined UEFA and FIFA shortly after; as a result, a national league was formed in 1995, just as Catalunya will be required to do should they gain independence.
Yet, how can FC Andorra continue to take part in the Spanish league? Current RFEF’s rules state that, in order to compete in Spain, “a team must be affiliated to the RFEF and integrated into it, other than the Federation of Autonomous Communities that are members.” FC Andorra currently competes in the fifth tier of Spanish football and is permitted to do so because they have been registered with the RFEF since 1948. As FC Barcelona was one of the founding clubs of Spain’s first division (Primera Division) in 1929, the club has the right to choose where their future lies. Put simply, in an independent Catalunya, a separate Catalan league and cup must be created, but Barça will have the option to choose whether to compete in their region’s competitions or continue as they are in Spain.
For Barça, it may be about getting the best of both worlds, such as Gibraltar, a small British terrority allowed to participate in official international competition (pending a vote this May). If a non-independent nation such as Gibraltar receives the green light from UEFA then the current regulations go out the window. The Catalan Football Federation would have legal grounds to play in international tournaments before they even gain independence. This would allow Barça to continue in La Liga and Catalunya to play in official competitions.
If Barcelona opted to leave the Spanish football league, a domino-effect of significant consequences would transpire. The distribution of domestic TV rights in Spain is largely imbalanced with the ‘big two’, Barça and Real Madrid, receiving more than half of the €600 million total for all 20 top division clubs. In the 2010/11 season, Barça received €140 million from Spanish TV rights. Moving to a newly formed Catalan league where the quality would be one of the poorest in Europe would see the club earn but a fraction of that sum. With money attained from domestic TV rights accounting for nearly 40 percent of Barça’s total annual revenue, it would become impossible to keep the majority of their star players like Lionel Messi, Dani Alves and Andres Iniesta, who are on astronomical wages. With such reduced running costs, the team would struggle to remain a major force in world football.
Spanish football would also suffer without one of their most profitable ‘products’. In such a scenario, Real Madrid would earn the lion’s share of TV revenue and monopolise the Primera Division, further reducing interest in the league both home and abroad. Around 400 million viewers from around the world tune in to watch El Clasico between Barça and Madrid; it is the highlight of the Spanish football calendar and a league without it would see major interest in La Liga decrease. And what about the Spanish national team? La Roja have won the last three major international competitions; yet a number of key players in those campaigns were Catalans. The combined prize money of Spain’s successes amounted to just over €80 million, but the Catalan players will have the option to switch forces if independence is gained, leaving future Spanish glory in doubt.
Should Catalunya gain independence, the decision will be in Barça’s hands to either stay in the Spanish league or join a newly formed Catalan league. The club has publicly voiced its support for independence, what remains to be seen is whether they advocate everything that goes with it or decide to opt for what is most financially beneficial.