Barcelona (AFP) – Playing Sunday’s La Liga match against Las Palmas behind closed doors was a protest against violent clashes between police and activists in Catalonia rather than a security issue, Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said.
At least 91 people have been injured as Spanish riot police fired rubber bullets and forced their way into activist-held polling stations over an independence referendum for Catalonia deemed illegal by the Spanish government.
Bartomeu insisted the club tried to have the match abandoned, but instead settled for showing their opposition by playing the match in an empty 99,000 capacity Camp Nou.
“It wasn’t done for security, the security was guaranteed. We wanted to do it due to the exceptional circumstances,” Bartomeu told BeIN Sports Spain.
“We have decided instead of abandoning the game, which is what we all wanted, to play the game in an exceptional manner, which is to say behind closed doors.
“Today there will be a game of football played but it has nothing to do with normality.”
A section of Barcelona fans’ groups had threatened a peaceful pitch invasion to show their disgust at events at the polling stations if the game was not suspended.
Had Barca refused to play the game they could have faced a three-point deduction from La Liga on top of forfeiting the match against Las Palmas.
“La Liga’s refusal to cancel the game and play it another day… would mean the loss of six points for the team,” added Bartomeu.
“We talked with the directors, the team and management team and we decided to play the game.
“We have done it behind closed doors so that everyone can see our opposition at what is happening.”
In a strongly-worded statement Barca condemned the actions of the police “to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression”.
“We send our support to all those who are suffering that lack of freedom of expression,” added Bartomeu.
According to Spanish media reports, Barca vice-president Carles Vilarrubi has resigned over the club’s decision to play the game.
“It is normal there are discrepencies in our club because it is a cross-sectional club where all opinions are well considered,” continued Bartomeu.
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