LONDON — Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola used the platform provided by his first cup success with the English Premier League team on Sunday to criticize the imprisonment of pro-independence Catalan politicians.
Guardiola defied an English Football Association charge for promoting a political message by continuing to wear a yellow ribbon in support of the jailed and exiled politicians during City’s victory over Arsenal in the League Cup final at Wembley Stadium.
Revered in the region following his success as a player and coach with Barcelona’s soccer team, Guardiola is not prepared to stop supporting a cause he believes in so fervently even if that means being punished by the FA. Guardiola has been wearing a yellow ribbon since Catalonia’s failed secession bid in October when a banned independence referendum was held.
“Before I am a manager, I am a human being,” Guardiola said after City’s 3-0 victory over Arsenal at English soccer’s national stadium. “I think England knows very well what that means. You did the Brexit. You let the people make an opinion (on voting to leave the European Union).
“You allowed Scotland to make a referendum about if they want to stay or not and the people voted (to stay in the UK). That is what they are asking (for in Catalonia). Then they are in prevention jail right now.”
Former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras is in jail along with ex-regional interior minister Joaquim Forn and the leaders of two grassroots groups, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez. Five former Catalan Cabinet members, headed by ex-regional President Carles Puigdemont, evaded court summons by moving to Belgium after separatist lawmakers passed an illegal independence declaration.
“If they come back, they are going to be jailed,” Guardiola said, answering several questions on the issue in his post-match news conference. “I think it’s not about politicians, it’s about democracy, it’s about people who will give absolutely everything (for) democracy.”
Thousands of the ribbons were handed out to City fans at Wembley in a show of solidarity with Guardiola’s protest.
“This is a popular initiative and I’m grateful for that. I have empathy for the people who have no freedom like the situation with the guys in Catalonia,” Guardiola said through a translator. “Anyone can be in that position. There are innocent people more than 140 days in preventative jail.”
The news conference started with Guardiola thanking City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates.
Sheikh Mansour also serves as a deputy prime minister and minister of presidential affairs in the UAE, which Amnesty International says has “continued to arbitrarily restrict freedoms of expression and association” and detain government critics.
Asked about how he reconciled his strong stance in Catalonia with questions about rights issues raised in the UAE, Guardiola said: “Every country decides the way they want to live for themselves. If he decides to live in that (country) it is what it is.
“I am in a country with democracy installed since years ago and try to protect that situation.”