NATIONALISM IN SPORT

Madrid premier wants soccer final suspended if national anthem jeered

Aguirre unleashes political storm saying that game should be played behind closed doors Previous game between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao three years ago saw booing and whistling

Madrid - 23 May 2012 - 11:43
Madrid's regional premier, Esperanza Aguirre.
Madrid's regional premier, Esperanza Aguirre.EFE

Madrid regional premier Esperanza Aguirre unleashed a political brouhaha on Tuesday by suggesting that if Friday's King's Cup final between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao is used as a platform to express nationalist aspirations, it should be suspended before the game starts, and played elsewhere behind closed doors at a later date.

At the final played three years ago between the same two teams, there was jeering at the playing of the national anthem, which Aguirre said was a crime under the Penal Code.

Her comments ahead of the match, which is due to be played at the Vicente Calderón stadium in the Spanish capital, have raised a furor across the political spectrum both on a national and regional level, including among members of her own conservative Popular Party.

The Basque government termed her remarks "lamentable," while the Catalan government accused her of trying to cover up problems she is having in her own political patch.

Aguirre's comments followed calls in Congress on Monday by nationalist lawmakers - who want their regions to be able to field their own national teams - to use the King's Cup final as a platform for "national affirmation."

"This is a Spanish competition. It's called the King's Cup," Aguirre said. "If there are teams that do not want to play in a Spanish tournament, then don't play. But what cannot be the case is that it is converted into an act of hostile protest against Spain and Spaniards."

Aguirre pointed out that former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would suspend any sporting event where people whistled at the national anthem.

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