It was a typical basketball game in Barcelona, said junior Briana Jennings—complete with an assembly of people clad entirely in yellow, waving gold, red, and blue-starred flags from the stands, and singing “Independència” in Catalan at the top of their lungs. When Barcelona Bàsquet played Beşiktaş JK Istanbul on March 6, it was a spectacle of pride for Catalan culture, said Jennings, and as balls swooshed through the hoop, fans called for independence from Spain — an example of how Jennings said politics are always a part of sports in Barcelona.
“I was in awe of the connection the crowd felt to their team,” said Jennings. “The air was infectious.”
Jennings, a journalism major, joined four other undergraduates for Emerson College Takes Barca!, a spring break trip to Barcelona in partnership with Ramon Llull University to help launch a grassroots campaign that aims to frame sports as a uniting force for Spain.
The campaign is a collaborative effort with Play 31, a New York-based nonprofit organization that uses what it calls the unifying power of soccer to bring together communities that have been divided by conflict, according to its website. Emerson students are creating a documentary to promote the launch of Play 31 in Barcelona.
Gregory Payne, associate professor in the communication studies department, and Enric Ordeix of Blanquerna directed students around the city to see tourist sites, attend sporting events, visit public relations and government organizations, and take classes to study sports as a tool of public diplomacy, all while collecting footage for their film, said Payne.
“Sports are a common currency between cultures and countries,” said Payne. “We’re teaching how symbols and messages in sports are constructed to sway public audiences.”
Patrick Lowndes, a junior journalism major, said to craft the film, the group is using skills they learned from studying Play 31 in Payne’s Sports Communication course and meeting with its new Barcelona director.
“Sports are one of the great uniters,” said Lowndes, who plays soccer at Emerson.
The Barcelona branch of Play 31 opens in May, said Jennings, and the campaign will strive to show how sports are a source of pride and represent the country’s national identity, and also how games are a powerful political force to bring together a divided population. Jennings said although the Catalan culture is distinct, and many of its people wish for independence from Spain, the documentary will highlight the country’s common passion for soccer and how it celebrates the achievements of people on both sides of the argument.
“They see their team as a beacon of hope,” said Jennings. “They’re showing the power of Catalan.”
The documentary is shot in both Catalan and Spanish and will have English subtitles, said Jennings, and will be directed primarily toward Barcelona sports fans and the country’s citizens.
“We wanted to be inclusive,” said Jennings. “The whole documentary process was intense because we decided to do it in a multitude of languages.”
The trip stems from a partnership with the Blanquerna School of Communication and International Relations at Ramon Llull University in Barcelona that Payne said he started when he took a group of Emerson students to the 1992 Olympic games.
Emerson formalized its connection with Blanquerna University in April of 2012, when President M. Lee Pelton and Dean Josep M. Carbonell signed a memorandum of understanding, said Payne. The understanding creates opportunities for exchanging research projects, developing academic courses, and sharing resources and data, according to the college’s website.
Barcelona has a history of fostering intersections between sports and politics, according to Payne.
“Sports work in the same way as art, media, and pop culture to be an acceptable bridge between countries, offering us a way to showcase our values,” said Payne.
Donovan Birch Jr., a senior political communication major who went to Barcelona as a part of the trip, said sporting events work well as spaces of protest and expression.
“Everyone loves a little friendly competition when things aren’t at high stakes,” said Birch. “Everyone rallies around teams. Sports bring people a sense of pride — in themselves, in their city, and in their country.”