3 May ~ Outgoing Barcelona president Joan Laporta looks set to run as a candidate for Catalan regional president in elections this November. Although he has yet to announce his candidacy formally, a campaign website is already up and running. "I will continue to dedicate the best years of my life to the country I love," says a beaming Laporta. "The moment has come for us all to serve Catalonia." With Catalan voters apparently fed up with their current Socialist-led coalition government, a recent poll already has a nominal Laporta-led party getting 17 per cent of votes. This would give Laporta control of a decisive block of seats in the Catalan parliament and plenty of Nick Clegg style bargaining power.
Laporta is likely to run on a Catalan-separatist platform. A public figure in Catalonia long before he became FCB president in 2003, he was previously a successful lawyer and a founder member of the now defunct Catalan nationalist Partit per la Independencia in early 1990s. As figurehead of the supposedly non-political football club, he continues to publicly and sometimes controversially support Catalan nationalist causes or events, and was conspicuously prominent at the Catalan patron saint St Jordi's day celebrations on April 23. He also spoke at March's annual conference of Reagrupament, a separatist movement which could form a base for a new party. Laporta's list of preconditions for entering a post-election coalition would be likely to include concrete moves towards Catalan independence, such as perhaps a legally-binding secession referendum. Were his campaign to gain enough momentum to make his new party the largest in the Catalan parliament, things would get really interesting.
It remains to be seen whether Laporta can leverage the goodwill and spotlight that comes with being associated with FC Barcelona into political success. As FCB president he oversaw two UEFA Champions League victories and good PR moves like placing UNICEF in the sponsor spot on the club's jerseys, but also less savoury stuff such as the development of a commercial relationship with Bunyodkor FC, the trophy team for the human rights disregarding Uzbek dictatorship. Another complicating factor is that while the football club has generally always been seen as a symbol of local pride in Barcelona, and coach Pep Guardiola shares at least some of Laporta's political leanings, Barca fans are not automatically in favour of an independent Catalonia - only 40 per cent are in favour of secession from Spain, according to a recent poll.
Barcelona's recent failure to make this year's Champions League final will have been a blow to Laporta, and he will be hoping Xavi, Messi, Piquet and company beat Real Madrid to the La Liga title to keep the momentum going. Whether the football season ends in success or failure for his club however, Laporta is expected to formally launch the next phase of his political career soon. We might soon find out whether, in Catalonia, football and politics do mix after all. Dermot Corrigan