Monday, July 12, 2010

One Spain...for now

Once again, football has achieved what politicians never could. In a scene that Spain has never witnessed in all it's history, every region of the country took to the streets to celebrate as one people. Spain was one country last night - one unified people flying the same flag and supporting the same establishment. I noticed the difference immediately. Back in 2008 when Spain defeated Germany in the final of the European Championship, every player draped themselves in their own respective regional flags. Sunday evening? Not a chance. No regional flags. Only a group of 23 guys wearing La Roja with the World Cup star freshly woven above the crest.

I was anxious to see how the country would experience the game. The Catalan government in Barcelona agreed, for the first time in HISTORY, to erect a fan zone for people to watch the final - to allow the people to openly support Spain. Tens of thousands crammed Avenida Maria Cristina in front of the beautiful art museum to take in the final. The celebrations and rioting afterwards actually resulted in more arrests than any other city in the country...go figure.

What about Pais Vasco? Reports today indicate that 75% of the Basque population watched the final. In Barakaldo, Ermua, Bilbao, San Sebastian - fans took to the streets and celebrated the win.

Now I know that for many of you, your jaw isn't dropping to the floor. So let me at least try and give you an idea why this is so epic. Fans in Barakaldo were greeted with this outside their viewing party. It's not much but it just goes to show you that the 25% who didn't watch the game were protesting in some fashion. They could never support the country even in a World Cup final. To them, it was as if 2 other countries were playing for the trophy - neither of them their own.

Then of course there's Barcelona. What makes the party on Sunday so incredible is what happened on Saturday. Depending on who you ask, 60,000-1.1 million people took to the streets. Only they were there to protest a decision by the constitutional court which stripped from the Spanish constitution certain amendments that granted Catalunya the legal right to declare itself a "nation" and to privilege the Catalan language over Spanish (all the schools up until college are taught in Catalan). A day before the biggest sporting event in history, the Catalans were stripped of practically every legal right they had to consider themselves a nation within Spain. And the very next day, everything I mentioned above took place to celebrate Spain.

It's tough to put into words the fractured relationship within this country. I had hoped before the final that they would put aside their political and cultural differences and give united support to the players and the country. My wish came true. And if only for a day or two, the scenes in every plaza of every city can and will never be replicated with a treaty or a speech or a politician's agenda. Football has the ability to break down barriers where no other options are available. The power of this sport reared its head once again.

For one night in July, Spain was a united Spain.

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