Barcelona v Real Madrid under threat as protests escalate in Catalonia

La Liga has requested next week's clasico be moved to Madrid as protesters hit the streets in response to the jailing of nine political leaders

epa07926695 General view of a protest march from Girona to Barcelona, during the second day of the so-called 'Protest Marches for Freedom', near of the town of Malgrat de Mar, in Catalonia, Spain, 17 October 2019. Protest marches were called for in several parts of Catalonia to converge in Barcelona on 18 October to protest against Spanish Supreme Court's sentence against Catalan pro-independence leaders, released last 14 October.  EPA/Alejandro Garcia
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A father carries his baby from his apartment which he fears will be engulfed by flames. Blazing rubbish bins and cars are used as roads blocks in major cities around Catalonia. Acid bombs and bricks are thrown at riot police, who fire rubber bullets and charge at protesters. Fireworks are launched at police helicopters.

Barcelona has been hit with three nights of protests and violence from Catalan separatists following the jailing of nine political leaders for holding an illegal referendum. Those nine leaders, who have been held in jail, were handed sentences of 13 more years on Monday for sedition and misuse of public funds relating to the 2017 referendum which saw voter turnout of 42 per cent.

Catalans wanting independence are furious and have taken to the streets. The vast majority of the protesters are peaceful, but they have spilled into violence each night. Protesters also besieged the airport on Monday and a 62-year-old Frenchman died from a heart attack after passengers, including FC Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic, walked up to three kilometres to the terminal.

A general strike is planned for Friday in the region and the widespread civil disruption is again having an impact on the sporting calendar. The Catalan FA cancelled all games on Monday out of solidarity with the prisoners – though no major games were scheduled to take place on Monday – while Barcelona planned to leave for this weekend’s game at Eibar a day early.

Against a backdrop of civil unrest and more planned protests, the first clasico of the season between Barcelona and Real Madrid scheduled for October 26 at Camp Nou is under threat. All the 99,000 tickets have been sold and a global television audience of 650 million will watch but the Sports Council of the Spanish government is understood not to want the game to take place in Barcelona.

La Liga has also asked the Spanish Football Federation's Competition committee to move the game to Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium citing "exceptional circumstances beyond our control."

The committee which is made up of one representative from the league, one from the federation and one independent member, will announce its decision on Wednesday, just three days before the scheduled time. Fans have booked to travel to the match from around the world. If the game is changed, the second clasico scheduled for March 1 would be moved to Camp Nou.

Barca, who along with former players Xavio Hernandez and Josep Guardiola condemned the sentences handed the jail sentences handed to leaders of the Catalan independence movement, intend to resist the change of venue. They have yet to say anything publicly, but they will present their case to the committee.

The Spanish champions have faced similar issues before. They played a league game against Las Palmas behind closed doors on October 1 2017, the day of the referendum in Catalonia and the subsequent failed bid for independence.

The Catalan club, who have ties to the Catalan political movement, released a statement on Monday that “prison is not the solution” and that it was “more important than ever that political figures lead a process of dialogue and negotiation to resolve the conflict, and that they grant the freedom of the condemned civil and political leaders”.

Independence chants are heard after 17 minutes of each half at every Barca home game. They increase in volume at sensitive moments like now, while large banners in English are unfurled at kick off. As the Champions League anthem was played before the recent game against Inter Milan, a 15-metre banner read: ‘Only dictatorships jail peaceful political leaders.’

The authorities fear that the clasico could be hijacked, with the huge international audience viewing the mass protest. With the situation on the streets becoming increasingly febrile, the events over the next few days will shape whether the Camp Nou clasico is to be relocated. Whatever way the decision goes, it will generate enormous controversy.