UEFA have fined FC Barcelona many times for the presence of 'estelades' during UCL matches. The Catalan club defend the right of waving them and allow the distribution of flags in Champions League games
Last Thursday, in the match against Celtic at Camp Nou, many supporters showed the estelada flag during the Champions League anthem. The estelada is the Catalan independence flag and UEFA doesn't want Barça to allow them in the stadium. Because of that, the club has already been fined three times: €30.000 for the UCL final in Berlin, €40.000 for last season's game against Leverkusen and €150.000 for the whole Champions League season.
Why have Barcelona been fined three times for the presence of estelades in the stands during a match? Why will the club reply increasing the number of estelades instead of banning them? Let's try to explain it.
The meaning of estelades
As said before, an estelada is a Catalan flag with some variations. Apart from the nine yellow and red lines, we can see a white star on the top and a blue (or just yellow) triangle under the star. Inspired in Cuba's flag, it has been used for years to reclaim the freedom of Catalonia.
There's an increasing number of people in Catalonia (the region of Spain whose capital is Barcelona) who want to separate from Spain and create a new independent country. Since October 2015 and for the first time, the Parliament of Catalonia has absolute majority in favor of independence, and the aim is to get this goal in 18 months' time. The flag that symbolizes this process is estelada, but recall: this is a non-official flag.
The relationship between FC Barcelona, independence and estelades
FC Barcelona's board have never officially said if they are in favor of independence or not, but the club signed a collective deal about the right of people to vote and decide their future.
Historically, Barça have been linked with the Catalan national feeling, and supporters have waved 'estelades' during matches for decades
Historically, Barça have been linked with the Catalan national feeling (one of the reasons for being more than a club) and Camp Nou has been scenario of some pro-independence events.
The process of independence started to become important in 2012, with 1.5 million people demonstration in Barcelona. Since then, many FC Barcelona supporters at Camp Nou scream "independence" in the minute 17:14 of every match (1714 is the year when Catalonia lost their rights after losing the war vs Spain.) People also wave estelades, which has been done for decades, before the beginning of the process. Even some players like Piqué, Puyol, Abidal or Cesc wore it during celebrations.
So why do UEFA fine Barcelona when fans wave estelades?
According to Article 16 of UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, "all associations and clubs are liable for the following inappropriate behaviour on the part of their supporters and may be subject to disciplinary measures [...] for the use of gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit any message that is not fit for a sports event, particularly messages that are of a political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature."
Is it casual that that the fines come now, in the middle of the process of independence?
Fines and FC Barcelona's response: defend the right of the fans
The problem is in the interpretation of an "inapropriate behaviour": estelades are not anti-inconstitutional, don't incite violence and supporters waving them have never acted in violence in the stadiums.
The first fine came after Champions League final in Berlin and surprised everyone. €30,000. The club decided to pay and prevent the closure of Camp Nou, but they started dialogue with UEFA to reclaim the right of freedom of expression. The club said they would defend the rights of their supporters.
The club want to defend the right of freedom of expression; estelades are not anti-inconstitutional and don't incite violence
But FC Barcelona was fined for the second time after match vs Bayer Leverkusen last October, €40,000. That time, the club decided to take the sanction to UEFA's Appeals Committee and to the CAS. The fact is that, Benfica was fined less money (€20,000) after their fans threw sparklers in the stands during a match. At the end of the season, UEFA fined Barça again for €150.000 for the appearence of estelades during the whole Champions League season.
UEFA will try to fine Barça again after the match against Celtic, but it will all depend of the CAS ruling, which is still unknown.