Barcelona: Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu insisted on Saturday that the Catalan giants cannot be used by either side in the political battle over Catalonia’s drive to gain independence from Spain.
A powerful symbol of Catalonia across the world, Barca have been caught in the political crossfire in the weeks following an independence referendum, deemed illegal by Madrid, was marred by violence.
“We are not an instrument to be manipulated for political interests, whatever they may be,” Bartomeu told club members at Barca’s annual general meeting. “Nobody can appropriate our badge or flag.”
Barca have backed Catalonia’s right to self-determination, but refused to position themselves on either side of the independence debate.
Bartomeu took an unpopular decision to play Barca’s match against Las Palmas behind closed doors on October 1 as the referendum took place after La Liga refused to postpone the match.
He described that decision as “one of the hardest” he has made in his three years as president, but claimed Barca were not losing touch with their core Catalan fanbase.
“No one can doubt Barca’s commitment to the Catalan community. We defend the principles of democracy, the right to decide and free expression.”
And Bartomeu condemned the imprisonment of two pro-independence civil society leaders Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart on charges of sedition.
“It is unacceptable that in this century there are people in prison for their political ideas.”
Meanwhile, Leon Goretzka scored again to lead Schalke to a 2-0 win over Mainz and fourth place in the Bundesliga on Friday.
He fired the home side into an early lead when Guido Burgstaller sent him through to chip the ball over the goalkeeper in the 13th minute.
It brought Goretzka’s scoring streak to three consecutive games for Schalke. He also scored twice recently for Germany in a World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan. He has six goals in 12 games for the national side.
In the French Ligue 1, Montpellier continued their good form against the leading teams with a gritty 1-0 win at Saint-Etienne.
Saint-Etienne was in third place before the game, but failed to create enough chances against a resilient Montpellier side that scored from its first good chance through Isaac Mbenza in the 22nd minute. The Belgian forward profited from a defensive mix-up to stroke the ball in from close range.
Montpellier drew against defending champion Monaco and runner-up Paris Saint-Germain and comfortably beat Nice — the top three from last season — before facing Saint-Etienne.
Montpellier, which has conceded only one goal in five games, climbed up to eighth place ahead of this weekend’s matches.
League leader Paris Saint-Germain travels to play bitter rival Marseille on Sunday night.
Schalke 2 Mainz 0
French Ligue 1
St Etienne 0 Montpellier HSC 1