Empty Camp Nou a show of referendum solidarity, Barca president claims

Despite calls for it to be postponed amid the violence in the city, the Blaugrana opted to let the game go ahead as a "rejection" of the day's events

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu claims the decision to play Sunday's match against Las Palmas behind closed doors was an act of protest amid attempts by the Spanish government to halt the Catalan independence referendum.

Clashes involving riot police and protesters have taken place as voters in the region went to the polls in a referendum which Spain's national government has declared to be unconstitutional and illegal.

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The Barcelona board met as footage of law enforcement officers using batons and rubber bullets on the crowds emerged, while voters were forcibly removed from some polling stations.

Less than an hour and a half before the scheduled kick-off, reports emerged that the Liga game would not take place following advice from Catalonia's Mossos d'Esquadra police force.

But a club statement from Barcelona, released 25 minutes before the match was due to begin, said the Spanish Football League (LFP) had rejected a proposal for the fixture to be postponed.

And the game instead went ahead without the presence of spectators, as La Liga leaders Barca sought to avoid suffering a six-point penalty.

Bartomeu, speaking to beIN Sports, claimed the decision to kick off at an eerily quiet Camp Nou was intended to send a message.

"[It was] a measure to show our rejection of what has been experienced today," he said.

"It is not a security issue, the Mossos had given us permission to play, it was all right. 

"We want to state that the game is different for everything [that] is happening in Catalonia, for the lack of freedoms that we suffer.

"We regret a lot of what is happening in Catalonia, it is a lack of freedom of expression and we are worried. 

"We have decided that instead of cancelling the game, which is what we wanted, we will play behind closed doors and we want to give our support to those who are suffering from the lack of freedom of expression.

"Not playing would have been six points lost, three for not playing and three for sanction.

"We talked to the institutions and there was no way to cancel the game and pass it to another day.

"So, we decided to play the game and do it behind closed doors so that [people] can see our disagreement... We do it for exceptional reasons, not for safety. 

"There is no need to lose points, the members of the club must appreciate that the world can see our disagreement."

Bartomeu also responded to claims Barca vice-president Carles Vilarrubi could resign in protest at the club's decision to go ahead with the game. 

"Everyone has their opinions, it is normal that we can have differences, we are a plural board," Bartomeu said.

In a statement released later on Sunday, La Liga claimed the fact that local police had been able to guarantee the safety of supporters led them to reject requests from Barcelona to postpone the match.

"In the light of the news published during the last hours about the possible postponement of the... match between FC Barcelona and UD Las Palmas, La Liga confirms that it has maintained permanent contact with the security officials of FC Barcelona and with the Mossos for several days," the statement said.

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"FC Barcelona and the Mossos have guaranteed to La Liga the safety of all the fans who attend this match.

"La Liga wants to insist on the security guarantees confirmed by the Mossos during the day today... [as the] reason why there was no [cause] for the postponement."

Las Palmas wore shirts embroidered with the Spanish flag as a symbol of national unity during the match, while Barca players took to the field wearing a kit featuring the colours of the Catalan flag, before reverting to their traditional home strip. 

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