Barcelona's Camp Nou hosting Copa del Rey final sparks controversy
After weeks of endless negotiations in order to reach a mutual agreement, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) have finally decided that the Camp Nou will host the Copa del Rey final on May 30. In other words, Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao will challenge for the title in the Catalans' home stadium.
Despite both clubs identifying the Santiago Bernabeu as the ideal scenario for the final, the Real Madrid board ignored their request and rejected the offer as soon as they were approached. A petition from local businesses in Madrid, hoping to take advantage of the remarkable €30 million worth of income that visitors are predicted to spend, was also ignored.
With that in mind, Barcelona and Athletic representatives were left with no option but to meet with RFEF once again in order to reach a final decision. Despite the Mestalla (Valencia) and the Benito Villamarin (Sevilla) stadiums being initially suggested, it actually came down to either San Mames (Bilbao) or the Camp Nou, with the latter being eventually elected by a 27-17 majority.
Don't get me wrong, this decision means that Cules have been allocated a significant 40 percent of the stadium's 98,000-strong capacity and will be able to use local public transport to attend the match if they are fortunate enough to get their hands on a ticket. However, it is also true that travelling to a different city and mixing with rivals in a different environment before the match is definitely a crucial part of the experience, what makes the day truly memorable.
Since the announcement, the prospect of the Spanish anthem, as well as King Felipe VI, being whistled by both Catalan and Basque supporters has become a favourite talking point in the Madrid-based media. As a result, a number of politicians and even the La Liga president have gone a step further and actually threatened to suspend the game, then evacuate the stadium if the anthem is drowned down by jeering from both sets of supporters, as it happened in the 2012 final when the two sides met in the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid.
"If there are whistles, I would suspend the Copa final," said La Liga president Javier Tebas, a lawyer by trade. "The hymn is one of the symbols of the competition's final. Although it is not a competition we organise, the LFP is very concerned and we must not allow the anthem to be whistled. At least, from here we will work to minimise the situation."
In a poll in November, which was not recognised by the Madrid-based government, 80 percent voted in favour of independence for Catalonia.
At every Barcelona home game, the Camp Nou crowd sing for independence after 17 minutes and 14 seconds, a reference to the 1714 fall of Barcelona to Spanish and French troops, which led to the loss of Catalonia's independence.
From a merely sporting perspective, playing the final at the Camp Nou could actually become a double-edged sword. Sure, Luis Enrique's team will have the advantage of not having to add another journey to their busy schedule and play in their own turf, but the added pressure to avoid a potentially historical home defeat must also be taken into account.
If Barcelona win, rivals could very well argue that it was because they played at home. If they lose, Cules will be regularly reminded of their failure. Equally, Athletic now have far less to lose as, inevitably, there are now even fewer people who expect them to be holding the Copa when they fly back to the Basque Country after the match.
Inevitably, the shambolic process that decides the stadium to host the Copa final halfway through the season must be changed. The RFEF should make such decisions before the competition actually starts, as the vast majority of European federations already do. Common sense is the least common of senses at times, which is a huge shame.
While the RFEF are at it, they should also consider a whole revamp of the competition by giving the winner a Champions League rather than a Europa League slot for the following season. Moreover, amending the format so that Primera teams compete in single-match rounds against all lower-tier teams, not just the top five in Segunda B and the Tercera Division champions, would also be a huge step forward. Sensible kickoff times in mid-week, especially during winter months, would definitely not hurt either.