Catalonia’s national sports teams came a step closer to gaining official recognition after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that local legislation (in this case Spanish law) could not stop more than one team per state joining a sports federation if this is permitted by the relevant international federation (in this case the International Bowling Federation).
In practice, this means that Catalan teams could soon compete alongside other fully-recognized members in up to 47 different sports, including major disciplines such as basketball, handball, athletics and swimming, because the international federations for these sports allow them to do so.
The decision by the CAS came to light on Wednesday 23 April, when the court rejected the Spanish Bowling Federation’s appeal to prevent the Catalan bowling team competing at international level. The ruling not only sets an important precedent for several other sports – and for other unrecognized national teams worldwide – but is especially significant since it will allow the Catalan national team to compete in a sport, bowling, that is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
First-rate sportsmen in ‘second-rate’ sports
Catalonia already has outstanding teams in several sports that are allowed to participate in international tournaments. The Catalan men’s trail running team has won the world championships three years in a row. Catalonia’s pitch and putt team has won two World Cups in recent years, and its futsal team came second in the European Championships in 2006.
Meanwhile, Catalan roller hockey is only partially recognition due to the Spanish federation’s persistent efforts to block the team from competing internationally. Paradoxically, the Catalan team is currently a member of the South American Roller Confederation, but up until now this has been the only international stage where it can compete.
The king of sports, vetoed
Despite major progress, it will be considerably more difficult for Catalan teams to gain official recognition in some disciplines. In football, the Spanish Football Federation prevents the Catalan side from playing more than one friendly a year. The latest decision by the CAS will change nothing for Catalan football because the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) explicitly prohibits the participation of more than one team per state, with the sole exception of the United Kingdom, which, “in recognition” of its contribution to the invention of the sport, is allowed four national sides, namely England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
But it is worth noting that the latter three are not the only national teams that do not represent a state: Palestine, the Faeroe Islands, Taiwan, Macao and New Caledonia also have their own fully-recognized football teams.
Photos: Banner in Barcelona stadium (www.seleccions.cat), Kílian Jornet, from the Catalan trail running national team (www.ocisport.net) and the Basque Country vs Catalonia football match (www.seleccions.cat).