By Alyssa McMurtry
MADRID (AA) - A Spanish court has struck down the government’s ban on Catalan independence flags at the final match of the King’s Cup football tournament on Sunday.
On Wednesday, an official from the acting Spanish government announced a ban on the estelada – a legal, unofficial flag used by the Catalan independence movement. While typically allowed in football matches, the Spanish government argued that during the King’s Cup final, in which Barcelona will play Seville in Madrid, the flag could “incite violence or terrorism or which include messages of a racist, xenophobic, or intolerant character”.
The Spanish government said it wanted to take politics out of football, but instead it triggered fierce debate throughout the country, and outrage from the Catalonian side. Both the president of Catalonia and the mayor of Barcelona said they would boycott the match. FC Barcelona, which avoids getting politically involved, issued a statement calling the ban an “attack on freedom of expression”.
On Friday, an administrative court sided with Drets, the Catalonian association appealing the ban, and so football fans will be allowed to enter the match with the estelada.
“In no case has it been proven that the estelada could incite violence, racism, xenophobia, or any other type of discrimination that goes against human dignity,” said the court ruling. “The value of political pluralism implies freedom to think and express oneself.”
The Catalan president, Carles Puidgemont, later confirmed he will be attending the match in Madrid on Sunday.
Catalonia has been quietly marching towards independence since separatists won regional elections last year.
The separatists marketed the elections as a referendum on independence, something the Spanish government has always prohibited, and vowed that if elected they would separate from Spain. In November, they did win a majority and later passed an 18-month plan for separation, which has been deemed illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court.
This is not the first time politics and sports have collided in the King’s Cup final – a match that it is customary for the monarch to attend. In last year’s final between Bilbao and Barcelona (both from separatist regions of Spain), fans drowned out the national anthem with whistles and booed the king.
Both teams received fines and the jeering fans also briefly faced charges, which were later dropped.