In a bizarre turn of events, politics took control of the field as Barcelona’s La Liga match against Las Palmas closed the doors of the Catalonian stadium, shutting out the protests surrounding the Catalonia referendum.
FC Barcelona condemned the referendum in a statement Sunday, informing fans that due to the Professional Football League’s refusal to postpone the game, the club’s first game would be played behind closed doors.
“FC Barcelona condemns the events which have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression,” the letter said.
The club’s final decision ended the debate of players and fans’ safety due to the lack of police presence at the stadium. According to the federation, the Catalan club would have suffered a three-point deduction and a forfeited match had they followed through with suspending the game.
In the presence of members of the media, the match began with Las Palmas bearing the Spanish flag on their jerseys to show support for the nation. Other signs of the political atmosphere appeared around the stadium, with the Catalan scoreboard showing the picture of a ballot box with the word “democracy” written on it.
Barcelona finished strong, dominating the field and taking the game with a final score of three to nothing Las Palmas, thanks to two goals from Lionel Messi and another from Sergio Busquets.
Despite Madrid’s refusal to recognize the process, thousands have participated, arriving at polling stations erected by Catalonian officials despite aggression from police authorities.
Among the voters was Barcelona defender Gerard Pique, who tweeted about the event, posting a photo saying, “I have already voted. Together we are unstoppable defending democracy.”
“Strange, strange, strange,” wrote Spanish sports journalist Andy West. “Ten minutes before kick-off, those fans were finally told the game was being played behind closed doors. There is bound to be a lot of anger among people who paid good money for tickets.”
The push for independence of Catalonia, a nation in the north-eastern part of Spain that’s home to 7.5 million people, has caused tension around the country.
Police forces arrived early Sunday morning outside polling stations, using batons and rubber bullets to suppress crowds and pro-referendum protests in Barcelona.
According to the Catalan Health Ministry, about 465 people injured by police violence: 216 were hurt in Barcelona, 80 in Girona, 64 in Lleida, 53 in Terres de l’Ebre, 27 in Catalunia central and 25 in Tarragona.
Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria defended police officials saying they “acted with professionalism and in a proportionate way."