The plan to play a La Liga match in the United States seemed a difficult one to begin with, but it may have gotten even more so. The proposed location—Miami—makes sense, but the match allegedly chosen for the venue does not.
It’s Girona vs Barcelona, supposed to take place January 26 2019. Yes, we knew the game would have to feature either Real Madrid or Barcelona, given those teams would be the two biggest draws. And, the corollary to that is the game would be likely to be a ‘home’ match on the calendar for their opposition.
However. By choosing Girona-Barcelona, the league has, intentionally or not, placed itself in the middle of the entire Catalan independence debate and specifically the question of national or regional symbols.
FC Barcelona has always regarded itself as a symbol of Catalonia (even though Barcelona the city is pretty evenly divided on the independence question). Girona, meanwhile, is in one of the independence hotbeds of Catalonia. If this match were to be played in Girona, there would doubtless be esteladas waved in the stands. One would also expect to see a lot of supporters wearing yellow ribbons.
It’s bad enough that the match is being moved to Miami (and it’s terrible timing for Barcelona, who probably have Copa matches on either side of it). But reports today indicate that fans will not be allowed to display “signs” or flags of their own, but will instead receive 40,000 little Spanish flags to wave. The national anthem of Spain will be played. Yes, La Liga will fly out 1500 “home supporters” to the match, but presumably they will be subject to the same restrictions.
Most local attendees probably could care less about the politics of Catalonia, but the fans coming from Girona and Barcelona for the match certainly do.
So is this really an attempt to improve La Liga’s overseas audience, or a way to neutralize pro-Catalonia sentiment surrounding this Catalan derby?