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FOOTBALL

Anger as Catalan flag banned from major football match

Barcelona blasted a Madrid-imposed ban on Catalan flags being flown at Sunday's Copa del Rey final as an attack on freedom of expression on Wednesday.

Anger as Catalan flag banned from major football match
A Barcelona match where fans wave the Estelada pro-Catalan independence flag. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP.

The final against Sevilla is being played at the Vicente Calderon, the home of Atletico Madrid, in the Spanish capital.

But the Community of Madrid authorities have told Barcelona that the Estelada independence flags cannot be flown.

“FC Barcelona expresses, in the most absolute terms, its total and complete disagreement with the announcement,” said a statement released by the Spanish champions.

“FC Barcelona considers the decision to be an attack on the freedom of expression, the fundamental right of each and every individual to express their ideas and opinions freely and without censorship, a right which is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Both Barcelona's mayor Ada Colau and the autonomous community's President Carles Puigdemont have said they are boycotting the match in protest of the ban.

The football club called for an immediate rethink on the ban which is likely to be enforced by body searches of Barcelona fans at the stadium.

“FC Barcelona calls for the use of common sense and responsibility and demands the government representative's cooperation in creating the good atmosphere a match such as the Copa del Rey final deserves,” said the statement.

“FC Barcelona also implores the representative (of the Spanish government) to respect the honour of the institutions involved in this final and to avoid causing any uncomfortable situations.”

The Estelada flag is a common sight at Barcelona games and has been a source of contention in the past.

Last year, European football's governing body Uefa fined Barca €40,000 over the flags used at a match, prompting separatist groups to then distribute thousands of the yellow and red flags at a Champions League match in protest.

Barcelona's president also threatened to take Uefa to the European Court of Human Rights over the fines.

One of Spain's 17 semi-autonomous regions with its own language and customs, Catalonia enjoys a large degree of freedom in education, health and policing.

But fed up after years of demands for greater autonomy on the taxation front – complaining it pays more to Madrid than it gets back – the region has veered towards separatism.

After winning a parliamentary majority in a regional election in Catalonia in September, pro-independence parties vowed to implement an 18-month roadmap for independence from Spain by 2017.

But while support for independence has soared in recent years in Catalonia – a region of 7.5 million people with its own language – it does not have the backing of a strong majority.

Though pro-independence parties won a majority in the 135-seat regional Catalan parliament, their share of the vote was 48 percent, giving their opponents a powerful argument against secession.

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FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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