Barcelona’s Gerard Pique says he will voluntarily retire from international football if his support for Catalonia’s independence referendum is seen as a problem.
Barca beat Las Palmas 3-0 in front of an empty stadium on Sunday as a result of the ongoing political chaos in Spain.
Pique later described the match as the ‘hardest game’ he’s ever had to play.
“The board tried to suspend the match, but it wasn’t possible. We debated it and the club decided we should play,” he said.
Catalonia, which has Barcelona as its capital and has its own language and culture, is seeking independence from Spain.
Pique – and indeed many within Barcelona football club – support the call for independence. But as the most visible Spain player to do so, Pique has become a divisive figure.
During a friendly against Colombia in south east Spain back in June, he was frequently jeered by supporters who oppose Catalan independence. And on Monday, he was again booed by some supporters as he trained with his Spain team-mates.
While Pique hopes to carry on playing for Spain, he added he would step aside before next year’s World Cup if needed.
“I think I can continue,” Pique said during an emotional interview as he fought back tears.
“But if the board really thinks I’m a problem, I will take a step back and leave the national team before 2018.”
Before Sunday’s game against Las Palmas, Pique posted a picture on Twitter of him voting in the referendum.
“I have already voted. Together we are unstoppable defending democracy,” he wrote.
Ja he votat. Junts som imparables defensant la democràcia. pic.twitter.com/mGXf7Qj1TM
— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) October 1, 2017
Like many, the defender was shocked by the scenes of police brutality as security forces cracked down on the referendum, which went ahead despite the Spanish government declaring it to be illegal.
“For a moment I couldn’t believe it,” he told the AFP agency. “I thought they would try to block the vote but they would try to do it in a peaceful manner.
“It wasn’t like that, but at least the whole world has seen it.
“This decision has made things a lot worse. It is one of the worst decisions made by this country in 40 or 50 years.
“It has only served to separate Catalonia and Spain more and it will have consequences.”
Pique’s support for Catalonia and its desire for independence remains unwavering.
“There are many people in Spain who disagree with what happened today and believe in democracy,” he said.
“I am and I feel Catalan, today more than ever. I am proud of the behaviour of the people of Catalonia. Voting is a right that must be defended.”