Pro-indy politician elected to lead Catalonia’s second most important institution – FC Barcelona
A pro-independence politician has scored a second election victory in Catalonia in less than a month, this time in the contest to become president of Barcelona football club.
Just as pro-independence parties won more than 50% in last month’s Catalan parliament elections, so Joan Laporta, a former member of the parliament, has won the race to lead the country’s second most important institution with 54%.
The Barcelona-born lawyer, who was president when the club won their first treble under Pep Guardiola, has returned on a promise to “bring Barça to the top of the world again” in sporting terms but also to act as “ambassadors of Catalonia to the world”.
That role isn’t new to Barcelona football club – former manager Bobby Robson once said: “Catalonia is a country and Barcelona is its army.”
At the famous Camp Nou stadium, fans begin chanting for independence at the same moment in each match – 17:14 – which represents the year Catalonia lost its independence.
But the ambassadorial role played by Barcelona, which remains the richest club in the world despite a recent dip in form and has over 100,000 members, is even more significant in the current political context.
The last Catalan foreign minister, Raul Romeva, is serving a 12-year prison sentence for his part in organising the 2017 independence referendum, the last Spanish government closed Catalonia’s embassies around the world and the European Parliament is today expected to vote to remove the immunity of three Catalan MEPs, including former president Carles Puigdemont.
“We want a Club and a President who are ambassadors of Catalonia to the world, committed to the Catalan language, to the values of the country,” states Laporta’s programme.
“Violation of rights and freedoms that have happened and are happening in our country are condemned. In Catalonia we will always be by the side of the shared causes that dignify us as a nation.”
While the two other candidates were also in favour of independence, Laporta has been by far the most outspoken on the issue.
“The process of Catalan independence is irreversible,” he has said on his Twitter account, where his name is accompanied by a yellow ribbon, the Catalan independence symbol for which Guardiola is well known for wearing.
Support for independence has increased rapidly in Catalonia over the last decade but Laporta was an early adopter, joining the now defunct Partit per la Independència in the mid-1990s.
He has described Barcelona as the unofficial national team of Catalonia and, during his first term as president, had the Spanish flag removed from the club’s famous La Masia academy which developed the likes of Lionel Messi.
After his second term as president ended in 2010, Laporta helped found the Catalan Solidarity for Independence party and was one of four members elected to the Catalan parliament later that year, a position he held until elections just two years later.
He continued his career in politics as a member of the Barcelona city council until 2015, when he lost to Josep Bartomeu in a bid to regain the presidency of the football club.
Ultimately, it was Barcelona’s dependency problems on the pitch rather than Catalan independence that proved crucial to Laporta’s re-election.
Bartomeu resigned in October after falling out with Lionel Messi. Laporta has promised to “do everything to ensure Messi continues.”