The regional premier of Catalonia has said he will not attend the final of the Copa del Rey (King’s Cup), to be held in Madrid on Sunday, in protest over a stadium ban on the display of esteladas – an unofficial flag that has been adopted by Catalan separatists.
Pro-independence leader Carles Puigdemont said he hoped the authorities would reconsider their decision to prohibit fans from displaying the flag at the Barcelona-Sevilla soccer match in the capital's Vicente Calderón stadium.
“I cannot participate in the final of La Copa del Rey until there is respect for the freedom of expression of the Barça fans who want to go there with esteladas. This is very offensive,” he said, calling the flag both legal and democratic, as well as a symbol of “freedom.”
Barcelona FC calls flag ban “an attack against freedom of expression”
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau also announced that she would not go to the game as a sign of protest.
In several tweets, Colau said that “the PP government must rectify” and that “if the ban is maintained, I will not attend the game as a sign of protest, just like the [Catalan] President.”
On Wednesday, central government representatives in the regional Madrid administration said they would uphold legislation forbidding the display of any symbols at sports events not formally recognized by the state, including the unofficial flag favored by Catalan separatists, which takes the traditional red-and-yellow stripes of the Catalan flag and adds a lone star similar to that of the flag of Puerto Rico.
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The decision to ban the flag rests on a law that prohibits the display of any items conducive to acts of violence or which express contempt for other people at the sports event.
There will be two checkpoints at the stadium on Sunday, and fans will be frisked one by one if necessary, authorities warned.
The pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party said that Barcelona should refuse to play on Sunday in protest.
The club itself has issued a statement calling the government’s decision “an attack against freedom of expression.”
The Copa del Rey, named after the king of Spain, is the oldest soccer competition in the country. Barcelona is the defending champion after winning the trophy last year in a final against Athletic Bilbao.
English version by Susana Urra.