What Would Catalonian Independence Mean for Swimming?

A referendum being held in Spain that carries significant geopolitical weight could also have an impact on swimming. Catalonians are turning out for a non-binding vote on the independence most eastern Spanish region – which includes the Catalonian capital of Barcelona.

The vote has been declared illegal by Spain’s highest court, and police violence has broken out in Barcelona in an apparent attempt to prevent Catalonians from casting votes in the referendum, but if the election is ultimately pro-independence, it would be the second such vote in the last 3 years – after better than 80% of the population informally voted in favor of secession in 2014.

Aside from delayed soccer matches, there are many potential ramifications for sport, just as there was in the failed (and much less violent) Scottish independence referendum in 2014. Specifically, if Catalonia were to succeed, they would presumably then begin competing as an independent nation in international sporting competitions from the rest of Spain. Many of the country’s top athletes hail from the region, which is especially true in Spain – where the most successful swimmer in the country’s history hails from Catalonia.

Mireia Belmonte is a 4-time Olympic medalist, including a 2016 gold in the 200 fly. She is the first female Olympic champion in Spanish swimming history, and has as many Olympic medals as all other Spanish swimmers combined.

In fact, most of the country’s great swimmers have represented Catalonia – including their first female Olympic medalist Nina Zhivanevskaya, and other well-known names of the modern era like Marina Garcia, Africa Zamorano, Jessica Vall, Judit Ignatio, Marita Gonzalez, Aschwin Wildeboer, Victor Goicoechea.

Sergio Lopez, once known for a breaststroke bronze medalist at the 1988 Olympics but now better known as a coach, was also born in Barcelona.

If Catalonia were able to gain independence, and subsequent IOC recognition, by the 2020 Olympic Games, it would immediately become a competitive team in the pool – if all of its top swimmers chose their Catalonian heritage over their broader Spanish heritage, which would likely be offered to them in the event of a split.

Catalonia is home to many of the sport’s international stars – including tennis player soccer player Gerard Pique, and basketball stars Pau and Marc Gasol.

When asked recently, Belmonte said that “I do not like to comment on this subject. I always say that Catalonia is Spain,” which seems to read that she’s pro-unity for the country, though is not as definitive as others have been.

There will be grander implications than simply place of birth for these athletes, of course. For those who aren’t known enough to have endorsements, there will be matters of who will provide funding and training oversight for the Catalonian athletes, and who might choose the stability of the RFEN (Royal Spanish Swimming Federation) over the Catalonian federation, which is a well-organized regional federation, but a regional federation none-the-less. Regardless, Catalonia has shown itself as a swimming hotbed over generations, and so the sport is not shielded from the fallout of these political matters.



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Coach Mike 1952
6 years ago

Thanks for this article. A note: in paragraph 4, though we all definitely know who she is (with her accomplishments as well as her bright sparkly eyes), nonetheless Mireia is only mentioned for the first time by (part of) her last name. Might want to have more of her name there. Thanks

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Coach Mike 1952
6 years ago

TY Braden

6 years ago

Not Scotland which England only keeps for historical reasons but look to Ukraine / Donbass or Iraq/ Kurdistan . Imo not happening unless a civil war . Note Crimea is the exception because they had a plan in place & an army to back them . Others are going to have to fight for it .

Reply to  G.I.N.A
6 years ago

England does not keep Scotland for historical reasons, but because they like to feel they are still an empire (important), and there is no empire if splits into pieces. I was in Scotland 3 weeks ago, and they talk how manipulated they felt both during independence referendum and Brexit. Everybody told them lies. Will of people does not exist – majority is always manipulated. There is also a critical mass required to earn independence; Basques have been fighting for decades, but nothing to show. In all of that, the hypocrisy of western civilization is staggering. When is it illegal versus “will of people.” If makes their enemy weak, they are all for it – if it makes them weak, than… Read more »

Reply to  PsychoDad
6 years ago

Most likely it will depend upon if they would like to fund a certain wall…

Reply to  PsychoDad
6 years ago

Am not anti mexico at all but mexico at the moment is economically out of sorts compared to the US.
But then the Mexican economy is doing better than ever. Their PPP ( purchasing power parity per capita is around 18,000 dollars which makes them a middle income economy right now. If they are able to get to a PPP per capita of 30,000 dollars by 2030 they they will be similar to say spain or poland making them moderately rich. At that point the flow of immigrants to the US from Mexico will be a very slow trickle or maybe even stop altogether with mexicans even moving back. We would probably have central Americans like Guatemalan,s etc moving… Read more »

6 years ago

Catalonia = illegal
Kosovo = self-determination
Western World = Hypocrites

Captain Awesome
6 years ago

Spains capital is Madrid, not Barcelona.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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