Once again Camp Nou staked its claim. Minutes prior to the match between FC Barcelona and BATE Borisov, a 45 square metre banner was unfurled with a clear message: Respect.
As on other occasions, the second tier of the sideline stands was the place where the micro-perforated banner was displayed, just when players from both teams were taking the field, while the PA system played the Barça Anthem.
"It is normal that club members want to express themselves freely," FC Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu said about the banner. "The public has made use of its freedom of expression and has also cheered on the team."
The public reaction to UEFA's latest fine for the display of 'Estelades' — Catalan flags typically flown as a protest symbol and to support independence — took centre stage in the moments prior to FC Barcelona's 3–0 victory over BATE in the Champions League, UEFA’s signature event.
Bartomeu steadfastly defended that reaction, which was highly predictable given the months of publicity stemming from UEFA's decision to fine the Club €30,000 Euros for displaying the Estelades during the Champions League Final last June in Berlin, Germany. The Club was then fined again, this time for €40,000, for a similar display earlier this season during a Group Stage match against Bayer Leverkusen at Camp Nou. The fans — and the Barça family — were indignant.
"The members want to express themselves with total liberty," said Bartomeu, emphasising the peaceful nature of the protest. "The observers saw that the behaviour of our fans was excellent, and I believe they'll make a note of that."
The Club President said it was good that UEFA has decided not to apply any more fines while the others are being appealed. Nevertheless, Bartomeu said, this is not over.
"We have to be cautious,” he said. “And I don't think that the appeal is going to be fast, but we won't stop until this goes wherever it has to go, until the freedom of expression of our members is respected, so that there is freedom of speech, and so that Article 16 of the UEFA gets changed."