BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said the club decided to play Sunday’s game against Las Palmas behind closed doors to show opposition to police violence against voters in Catalonia’s independence referendum and not over safety concerns.
La Liga leaders Barca’s 3-0 win at an empty Nou Camp came on the day Catalan officials said that more than 760 people were injured in clashes between police and people trying to vote in the referendum, which the national government declared illegal.
Barca tried to have the game postponed but were told by La Liga that there were no grounds to do so in the interests of safety. If Barcelona, who have won their opening seven league games of the season, had postponed the match without the league’s consent they would have been docked six points.
“This (playing without fans) was a measure to show our rejection of what took place today,” Bartomeu told television network BeIn Sports.
“This is not a security issue, the police gave us permission to play, but we wanted to show that this game was different because of everything that is happening in Catalonia and the lack of liberty we have been suffering from.
“We decided that instead of postponing the game, which is what we wanted, we’d play behind closed doors. That way we show our concern for the situation and send our support to those who have been unable to exercise the right to freedom of expression.”
Police hit people with batons, fired rubber bullets into crowds and forcibly removed would-be voters from polling stations in actions that were condemned internationally but described by the government as “proportionate”.
The referendum has pitched the country into its deepest constitutional crisis in decades and deepened a centuries-old rift between Madrid and Barcelona.
“If we hadn’t played we’d have lost six points, three for the result and three as a punishment,” added Bartomeu.
“There was no reason for us to lose points, all our fans should appreciate that we showed our disagreement with what happened.”
Barca are five points clear at the top of La Liga.
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique broke down in tears in a post-match interview and indicated he did not want to play after Sunday’s events in Catalonia.
“The board tried to postpone the game through every means possible and came down to the dressing room to take a decision with us,” Pique said.
“Today has been a very tough day, probably the hardest since I’ve been a professional. My opinion counts for little and in the end we all agreed to play.
“La Liga and Las Palmas wanted to play, and we had to think about the points, but I understand everyone who has criticised us for playing.”
Pique was also critical of the Spanish government and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for their handling of the referendum.
“The government’s policies are some of the worst we have seen for 40 or 50 years. All they have done is separate Catalonia and Spain ever more. I’m sure there will be consequences,” said Pique.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris)