FC Barcelona boss Joan Laporta to swap goals for polls as he promises to ’set Catalonia free’

Success on the pitch could soon make Barcelona chairman Joan Laporta Catalonia’s most powerful separatist politician.

He was compared last week with the football greats Pelé and Maradona, but the magic feet of Barcelona star Lionel Messi now promise more than goals for his club president. Trusting in the power of sport to galvanise a proud region, Joan Laporta hopes the astonishing feats of his little Argentinian genius will help to make him Catalonia’s most powerful separatist politician.

Messi’s four spectacular Champions League goals against Arsenal last week were a huge political boost for Laporta, who leaves the club this season and is expected to stand as a candidate for president of the Catalan region in November. A wealthy lawyer who makes no secret of his separatist leanings, Laporta has yet to declare his candidacy formally but has already established a campaign website. “I will continue to dedicate the best years of my life to the country I love,” he states. “The moment has come for us all to serve Catalonia.”

His site laporta2010.cat received 270,000 visits on its first day – an indication of the popularity of the man who has built what is currently the world’s best club soccer team. The campaign site carries opinion poll results showing Laporta would instantly gain at least 17% of votes, and possibly a decisive block of seats in the Catalan parliament, were he to found a new party.

Another Champions League triumph for Barcelona at the end of the season would further boost the standing of Laporta, whose critics accuse him of turning the member-owned football institution into a political tool at the service of Catalan separatism.

“He has mixed up his personal ambitions with those of the club,” complains Paco Cabezas on the newspaper El Mundo’s website. “He should not use his position at a club with millions of fans around the world, all with their own political opinions, to promote his personal political dream of an independent Catalonia.”

In a recent interview Laporta explained the motives behind his political ambitions. “I am attracted by the idea of standing for a new, open party that believes Catalonia needs its own state,” he said. “I know that I can be a leader, and the idea of achieving freedom for my country seems beautiful to me.” He recently opened the annual conference of a separatist movement known as Reagrupament – which may turn itself into a fully fledged political party before the November elections.

Reagrupament is a breakaway from Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, the separatist party that forms part of the three-way coalition that governs Catalonia. Leaders of the movement have made it clear that they would like to join forces with Laporta. “I am convinced that we will end up working together,” said Reagrupament’s founder, Joan Carretero. Reports say that Laporta is carrying out private polling and that he will announce his decision on 25 April. Previous polls show that most people see him as being on the centre-left of Catalan politics.

In the meantime, Laporta’s political fortunes will depend in great part on the golden boots of Leo Messi, a footballer who is neither Catalan nor Spanish.


Article de Giles Tremlett,
publicat el diumenge, 11 d’abril del 2010, a The Guardian.

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