This year’s World cup tournament has brought back a wave of fervor for Argentina’s national soccer team. Argentina is expected to have a good chance at the World Cup title with super stars like Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez, young soccer magicians leading the offense.
Soccer as socialism At the turn of the 20th century, Anarchists and Socialists founded many of Argentina’s first soccer clubs. They sought the need to use soccer as a social and political tool for organizing. Anarchist historian Osvaldo Bayer has written extensively on anarchism and soccer. Argentina’s large Anarchist movements in the 20th century, influenced by the influx of European immigrants, were alarmed by the working class’ drive to go to the soccer stadium on weekends rather than ideological picnics or other cultural events. The movement’s daily anarchist newspaper La Protesta wrote in 1917 compared the effects of soccer with religion, writing “church and soccer balls: the worst drug for the people.” However, anarchists soccer ideology changed quickly.
Soccer as nationalism
The 1976-1983 military dictatorship ushered in unimaginable methods of terror–drugging dissidents and dropping them from planes into the Atlantic Ocean in the “vuelos del muerte,” using electric prods or “picana”on the genitals of men and women who entered the clandestine detention centers, raping women and forcing husbands, wives, parents, brothers, and companeros to listen tot he screams of their loved ones who were being tortured. The dictatorship disappeared 30,000 men and women to wipe out working class resistance and implement the neoliberal economic model.
The 1978 World Cup cost Videla several hundred million dollars. Business tycoons who benefitted from the dictatorship’s neoliberal policies joined in the World Cup frenzy. The BAUEN hotel (currently under worker self-management) was constructed in 1978 for the World Cup, with government loans and subsidies.
Home players beat Holland 3-1 in the final. Holland along with many nations threatened to boycott Argentina’s World Cup, saying “you can’t play soccer a thousand meters from a torture center.” The Holland players said openly they would not accept the World Cup trophy from hands of dictator Videla. The military coup used the World Cup to launch its own counter-human rights campaign with the slogan “Argentineans are right and human.” The dictatorship’s national pride campaign overshadowed any international criticism of human rights violations.
Diego Armando Maradona, by far the best soccer player in history, led Argentina in taking the title again in 1986 during the World Cup in Mexico. Maradona from the working class neighborhood Fiorito, a shanty town in a southern Buenos Aires suburb continues as a soccer god for many worldwide. During the 90′s Maradona began to slip in the midst of the golden neoliberal era of former president Carlos Menem. Maradona left the soccer world in 1994 with a drug addiction and weight problem.
In popular culture, almost noone makes reference to the 1978 World Cup victory. Fans generally cheer, “we’re going to win just like in 1986!” Soccer, like any sport can be used to uphold authoritarianism and nationalism. The political punk rock band, Las Manos de Fillippi, wrote a song about the 1978 World Cup “La Selecion Nazzional.” The lyrics go: “The World Cup is another state ministry, while the education ministry makes you stupid, the World Cup nationalizes you.” Universally, the state has coopted the World Cup for national interests.
Marie Trigona forms part of Grupo AlavÃo. She can be reached at [email protected] For more information visit, www.agoratv.org