BARCELONA: Usually discreet off the pitch, Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta felt the need to speak up on Thursday and call for more dialogue in the dispute over Catalonia's push for independence that has the country on edge, including the national football team.
Iniesta, also a midfielder for Spain, wrote on Twitter: "I have never commented publicly on such complex situations with different sentiments, but the situation that we are living is exceptional and I have one thing clear: before we harm ourselves further, negotiate. The ones responsible for all of this, negotiate. Do it for all of us, we deserve to live in peace."
Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu made the same request in a statement.
"Barcelona demands a process of dialogue and negotiations to find political solutions to the situation happening in Catalonia, and for this to be done with the utmost respect for the wish of the majority of Catalan people to decide on their future," Bartomeu said.
"In our case, we shall defend the demand for such institutional dialogue wherever it might be needed, while in a sporting sense, we shall continue to compete in our different disciplines. We will aspire, as ever, to win every title."
Authorities said nearly 900 civilians and about 430 police officers were injured across the autonomous northeastern region on Sunday during the independence referendum, which the Spanish government said was unconstitutional.
La Liga refused Barcelona's request to postpone its game on Sunday, so the team played it without spectators. Club vice president Carles Vilarrubi reportedly resigned after the stance was made public. One of the main symbols of Catalonia, Barcelona openly backed the region's right to hold the referendum, even at risk of being banned from La Liga if a Catalan state became independent.
Spanish league president Javier Tebas has insisted that a non-Spanish team competing in the league makes no sense, and it remains to be determined whether Barcelona will be sanctioned for closing the doors on its 100,000-seat stadium.
Iniesta, meanwhile, is unable to play for Spain on Friday in a World Cup qualifier against Albania because he is injured.
The buildup has been overshadowed by the recent political tensions. Veteran defender Gerard Pique, Iniesta's teammate in Barcelona and a staunch defender of the Catalans' right to vote, polarized Spain fans with his harsh criticism of Spanish authorities following the referendum.
He was harassed at Spain's training camp in Madrid on Monday, causing front-page headlines in nearly all sports dailies, along with headlines such as "Unbearable Situation." The fan outcry seemed to simmer down on Thursday in Alicante, with a mixed bag of cheers and jeers for Pique upon arrival and during the open training.
Sergio Ramos, the captain of Barcelona archrival Real Madrid, said on Thursday he has a healthy rapport with Pique, his fellow undisputed starter on Spain's defensive line.
"Fans have the right to express their opinion. They are free in that regard," Ramos said at a Spain news conference.
"We have a great relationship, despite our different viewpoints and personalities. Mixing politics and sport is a mistake. As a Spaniard I don't like what's happening, but let's hope it all gets resolved quickly and we can get back to living in a free democracy and enjoying sports, which is what makes us all happy."