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Soccer And Politics


When the World Cup started I knew that due to rational political reasons I should not cheer the two teams where my heart belonged -Argentina and Brazil. Some people say that everything is political – and they are right to say so. Football is indeed about politics.

My reason not to cheer Argentina is a dangerous and powerful man called Macris. To understand his importance for football and politics I have to tell you the story of what Argentina is going through and the significance of leaders.

After the popular uprising in Argentina 19th December people started to organize in neighbor councils – asambleas vezinales. It is quite easy to follow the logic. If everything is chaos, poverty higher than ever, unemployment sky scraping, you’re not allowed to take out your money from the bank and you have a life to take care of; what is the first thing that you do?

You talk to your neighbor. That is what people did, and after only a couple of months there were more than 250 neighborhood councils in the capital Buenos Aires. Just a few weeks after the first meetings, neighbors – as they are called with the same implication, as they must have said comrade when the communist parties where born – expressed the necessity to have a communication between the councils.

An interbarrial was born. Every Sunday delegates from the councils meet in Parque Centenario in downtown Buenos Aires to discuss widespread problems, coordinate political demands and common actions. An opinion poll showed that 34% (2,5 million people) of the BA population has participated in either a cacerolazo or an asamblea. More than 50% of the population think that participatory democracy is the new way to organize society.

That participatory democracy is an effective way to organise a society in need for redistribution and development is known not only for historical reasons. The Paris Commune may have been the first, but popular committees in Palestine and participatory budgets in Porto Alegre and Belém do Pará are showing their importance today.

Each experience of participatory democracy has its own characteristics, due neither to cultural nor political reasons but to how the people want deliberation to proceed. But they have things in common. One is the collectiveness: the decentralized non-hierarchic structure. No need for charismatic leaders in the front. The multitude is in the front.

But on the way to the installation of a parallel power there has to be people that sometimes are able to lead. One of many topics discussed at cacerolazos, asambleas, piquetes (road blockings), restaurants and bars was the urgent lack of leaders in Argentina. Many people think that the leaders are among the 30 000 people that disappeared during dictatorship.

A cab driver told me the tragic story of ‘la noche de los lapizes’, the night of the pencils. In time of dictatorship, one night the military killed a group of students. Their only weapons were their pencils. Maybe – says the cabdriver- the leader that we need was one of them. While the people are in lack of leaders, and the left parties are not able to give them a solution the right has found a leader.

As people don’t believe in corruption, the military and industry can support a person that doesn’t belong to a party. There is such a man. It’s Argentina’s answer to Berlusconi – his name is Macris, owner of big industry, media and the most popular football team in Argentina, Boca Junior. It is Maradona’s team; its stadium located in one of the most popular and tourist neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, La Boca.

A friend of mine tells me that the support of Boca Junior always is 50 % +1. The owner would get the same support, if they don’t do badly in the World Cup. That was the reason not to cheer Argentina. But when I saw Batistutas tears I cried for Argentina. Sometimes love is stronger than rational politics.

There are two countries in Latin America where football is religion. If there is success in football that means there is success in the country and people are satisfied: the need for change is not that urgent any more. Brazil and the whole continent are indeed in urgent need for change. A man that could start a transformation process is Lula and the PT party. People in Brazil thinks that his chances will reduce if they won the penca, the fifth World Cup. That was the reason not to cheer Brazil.

Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) is the Brazilian left party. They have majority in several communes and regions, and in most of the places they have effectively governed by means of popular participation; letting people decide by participatory democracy. Lula is their charismatic presidential candidate. Lula, the trade union leader that, with his jeans and T-shirt and revolutionary rhetoric, almost won the first presidential election after dictatorship ended in 1989.

Today he is on top of the opinion polls. But he has been there before. Now he wants to win the second round, with shirt and tie, making agreements with other political parties. Will his chances be reduced now that the country has triumphed in Japan? I don’t think so. Maybe it is because globalization makes football count less and financial credibility more.

Two weeks ago, Moody´s lowered the point for Brazil, due to the fact that Lula is ahead in the surveys. We all know that it means less reliability with the IMF, fewer investments and less credibility towards the outside world. I don’t think his chances will reduce due to the World Cup, maybe to excuse my cheering and happiness seeing Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo dancing samba, thanking god and Pelé and kissing their medals.

And happiness is what the Brazilian people feel when they win. It’s a dream that becomes true, seeing their football players, all grown up in poor and marganilised neighborhoods being world stars. Maybe they symbolize a bigger hope for change than the elections?

In some ways a national football team is a reflection of the nation. In Sweden we have neither favelas nor Ronaldinhos. In Sweden we have social security and increased class differences, a ‘red’ government that cuts more than any right-wing government would have dared to.

Sweden is a country that in a few years time has become the most neoliberal in Europe, but still lives the dream of the country that once was… For me, born in Rumania, with a Peruvian mother, Chilean father and with Swedish nationality, the Swedish team – landslaget – is the reflection of what used to be the Swedish welfare state, the social democratic model and state when it was good.

When redistribution reigned, when political refugees were welcomed and full employment was top priority, when the public sector had not yet been privatized and collectiveness was supreme. In Sweden the national football team reflects a nation that no longer exists.

The Swedish football team is a collective; it is the last lonely island where neoliberal ideology has not made individualism ultimate. We have two coaches. Two! They are not good looking, and they dress in tracksuits. And they create a team that together probably are worth less than Ronaldo’s toe.

And the Swedes, even when they won the bronze medal in 1994, did that by becoming a great collective. But if they had won maybe people would have thought that nothing has changed in Sweden. That the country still is what it used to be, so I didn’t want to cheer them either. But I did because they make me dream of a better society. So then, if I cried for Argentina, was sad when the Swedish collective lost and happy when Brazil triumphed. Did I fail in not being rational? If football is about love and passion politics is as well. I simply told myself that the solution is not for Argentina, Sweden or Brazil to lose. The objective is to be part of a political movement that creates hopes and dreams and stories as magic as Ronaldo’s.

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