FIFA would have the power to suspend Spain, the 2010 World Cup winners, from competing in international soccer, less than a year before the 2018 tournament in Russia
Tensions around Catalonia’s upcoming independence referendum have spilled onto the soccer pitch in Spain after a warning from the country’s national football league that one of its crown jewels, FC Barcelona, would be expelled if the region seceded.
Catalonia is home to the world’s second most-valuable club, with five-times European champions Barca a mainstay of Spain’s La Liga whose boss, Javier Tebas, has said the club would not be allowed to remain in the league in the event of secession.
Spain’s football community believes secession is a distant prospect, given that Madrid has declared Sunday’s vote as unconstitutional, but that has not stopped the Catalan political crisis from exposing divisions among fans and some officials.
La Liga’s threat to expel Barca in the event of independence would leave the club, estimated by Forbes magazine this year to be worth $3.64 billion, and its players, including five-times world player of the year Lionel Messi, without a league.
The region’s other top-flight clubs, Girona and Espanyol, would also face expulsion from Spanish soccer.
Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium is a cauldron of separatist fervour, but the club is careful not to openly support independence. Instead, it says Catalans should decide and has criticised Spain’s attempts to prevent the vote going ahead.
After police raided Catalan government offices and arrested officials this month, the club issued a statement condemning “any act that may impede the free exercise” of democracy and freedom of speech.
Barcelona transfer news
⚽ Ian Wright’s Premier League Tips ⚽
Former striker Ian Wright selects his top tips for Saturday’s action.
“Romelu Lukaku has started exactly as you’d want a £75m signing to start.
“Not only has he scored a load of goals but he’s also silenced those questioning his link-up play and the first touch.
“He’s the only player in my mind when it comes to the first goalscorer market – and I fancy United to get loads againsrt Crystal Palace.”
FC Barcelona and La Liga declined to comment to Reuters, though the club’s vice-president, Jordi Cardoner, told reporters this week the vote would be “an important day in the history of our country, but we have to focus on football”.
Soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, also declined to comment on the implications for FC Barcelona and other Catalan clubs if the region were to declare independence after the vote, which Spain regards as unconstitutional.
“As a general rule FIFA does not comment on potential future scenarios,” a FIFA spokesperson told Reuters.
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Secession, though, would be a tricky political football for FIFA. If La Liga were to exclude Barcelona in the event of Catalan independence — a move Tebas said would be required by Spanish law — FIFA could be asked to determine if Spain had breached its rule against government interference in football.
FIFA would have the power to suspend Spain, the 2010 World Cup winners, from competing in international soccer, less than a year before the 2018 tournament in Russia.
A soccer crisis could be avoided if the law were to be amended, but most Spanish lawmakers are opposed to Catalan independence and it is not clear if they would approve that.