Barcelona flag ban threatens to derail season finale with Sevilla

Tim Stannard reflects on a week of questionable decision making by the men at the top of Spanish football...

Two stories from La Liga this week show the particular and most peculiar method of problem-solving from the powers-that-be in the Spanish game.

The first concerns a madcap scheme from La Liga to fine any clubs who allow empty seats to be broadcast during games from their grounds. It’s a move that could have quickly bankrupted Getafe, had the Coliseum club stayed up. 

The cunning plan is part of the league's ongoing battle with the Premier League, which has full stadiums ahoy packed with happy smiley faces. Mostly.
 
Rather than spend some time and energy analysing why there might be empty seats in the first place - high ticket prices, matches finishing at midnight, unequal competition, a lack of free ham - the approach taken is to go all Beijing Olympics by potentially corralling supporters into one side of grounds, using sheep dogs along with ringers from the local army barracks waving “I love Deportivo, me!” banners.

Espanyol fans

Espanyol are one club who could find the new rule hard to accept

All that and extremely limited alternate camera angles for replays. Heck, Espanyol might even have to factor in CGI effects into their annual budget. 

Flag-gate erupts

Naturally, many of those same supporters who may not have owned the flag, never mind intended to take it with them to Capital City, will now do so

Another display of crack decision-making came a little higher up, from the Madrid government, in a move to ban something that probably wasn’t going to be an issue in the first place.
 
That something was the separatist flag of Catalonia, the Estelada, which is being seen as toxic material by the Spanish government at the Copa del Rey final between Barcelona and Sevilla at the Vicente Calderón on Sunday. 
 
The threat has been made that the flag would be removed by police from supporters trying to bring it into the stadium. Naturally, many of those same supporters who may not have owned the flag, never mind intended to take it with them to Capital City, will now do so. 

Barcelona flags

Barca fans will be forbidden from waving the 'Estelada' during Sunday's final

Barcelona released a statement saying that the decision was an attack "on the fundamental right of each and every individual to express their ideas and opinions freely and without censorship.”
 
Meanwhile, La Liga President Javier Tebas argued that the flags are “symbols that define the destruction of Spain,” and not appropriate at a match which has a fairly royalist theme. 
 
On Thursday, there was even the talk that Barcelona president, Josep Bartomeu, would not attend in protest. Indeed, there was a hint from the club’s spokesperson that he will travel with the team, but no guarantee after that. Barca have appealed the decision in the Madrid courts, but the storyline of what would have been a most excellent Spanish season finale has already been rewritten. 
 
As to matters of the game itself, the fate of the match will depend largely on how much the Sevilla players have been on the lash since the team’s laudable Europa League win in Basel and if the footballers decide to continue with their increased work ethic after the side’s most lackadaisical of seasons. 

But an awful lot of what happens on the pitch could be buried by what happens off it, with tens of thousands of flags brought by Barcelona fans being removed by security personnel in Madrid’s capital city.
 
Both parties will argue the rights and wrongs of the flag and its symbolism, but a heavy-fisted approach has only turned what may have been a minor inconvenience for Spanish authorities into a full-blown mess.