Barcelona (AFP) – A near 50-metre banner pleaded for “Dialogue, Respect, and Sport” as Barcelona’s Camp Nou opened its doors Wednesday for the first time since a violent crackdown of an independence referendum in Catalonia on October 1.
However, heavy rain in the hours before kick-off against Olympiakos in the Champions League turned thousands of fans away with almost two thirds of the 99,000-capacity stadium left empty.
Barca’s singing section also held up a banner reading ‘Freedom for Catalonia’, whilst there were habitual chants in favour of independence in the 17th minute to mark the fall of Catalonia in the Spanish War of Succession in 1714.
Those chants were cut short, though, as Barca went in front in the 18th minute thanks to an own goal from Dimitrios Nikolaou.
Barca beat Las Palmas 3-0 behind closed doors on October 1 as a protest at the violent scenes across Catalonia.
However, the decision to go ahead with the match proved divisive as two Barca board members resigned in the aftermath.
Barca announced on Tuesday representatives of pro-independence citizens’ groups Omnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) were invited after their leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez were detained on Monday on charges of sedition. However, both organisations refused that offer.
The club have supported Catalonia’s right to self-determination in a referendum, but stopped short of backing independence.
“We believe FC Barcelona’s message doesn’t represent the majority of the fans. For that reason we reject the invitation to the directors’ box,” the ANC said in a statement on Twitter.
“We thank Barcelona for the gesture of solidarity with the president of Omnium. With all respect to the club, we want to communicate that tonight the seat in the directors’ box they have offered us will be left empty, to condemn Jordi Cuixart’s lack of freedom,” said Omnium.
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