Football and politics: a troubled symbiosis – 28/06/2021 – Latinoamérica21

On June 21, 1978, at the Gigante de Arroyito stadium (Rosario, Argentina), the teams of Argentina and Peru staged one of the most controversial matches in the history of South American football.

It was the last game before the 1978 World Cup final in Argentina. The Netherlands were already classified for the final and were waiting for the definition of their opponent: Brazil or Argentina.

That same day, Brazil had beaten Poland 3-1, shortly before the match between Argentina and Peru.

The match schedules were suddenly reversed, so the hosts stepped onto the pitch knowing that a four-goal win would qualify Argentina for the final. Otherwise, Brazil would contest the title against the Dutch.

In front of 40,000 fans, Argentina beat Peru 6-0 to advance to the final. As a result, they beat the Netherlands 3-1 and won their first football world title.

The political context in Argentina during the World Cup was that of a military dictatorship.

From 1976 to 1981, the country was ruled by General Jorge Rafael Videla, who succeeded Isabelita Perón.

For some historians, 1978 was the height of military rule, less because of government successes than because of nationalist triumphs in international competition.

Argentinian tennis player Guillermo Vilas was at the peak of his career, with three Grand Slam titles in the 1977-1978 biennium (Roland Garros, US Open and Australian Open).

Model Silvana Suárez would be elected Miss World at the end of the same year.

And, with even more popular appeal, the soccer team would win the World Cup, which has been used as political propaganda and a booster for the country’s international image.

Along with the boasting provoked by international competitions, reports of murders, torture, political arrests, exile and enforced disappearances are on the increase.

In the economy, deindustrialization, unemployment and the inflationary spiral have increased.

This flip side did not prevent part of the population from applauding General Videla at the Monumental Stadium of Núñez, where Argentina was champion, and at Plaza de Mayo, during the commemoration. A pernicious combination of football, politics and nationalism.

On the controversial 6-0, much has been speculated on the suitability of Peruvian goalkeeper Ramón Quiroga (“El Loco”).

In addition to conceding six goals, Quiroga is a naturalized Peruvian Argentinian, which has helped to raise suspicion of an alleged bribe to put the game back on track, an accusation he has always denied.

Indeed, an analysis of the goals shows that Quiroga seems not to have been at fault on any goal, unlike two or three clear failures of the Peruvian linemen.

In an article published by Folha in 1998, Quiroga said he was sure someone had made money for delivering the game.

In 2005, the journalist Pablo Llonto published the book “La vergüenza de all”, with an analysis of the rumors of this Cup. The author argued that the Argentine team won the match on the pitch, without outside interference, despite speculation that persists to this day.

In 2007, Caracol (Colombian) radio reported that the Cali cartel had bribed some players from the Peruvian national team. The statements are from Fernando Mondragón, son of Gilberto Orejuela (“The Chess Game”), former head of Colombian drug trafficking.

Also in 2007, he created the documentary “Mundial 78: Verdad o Mentira”, directed by Christian Rémoli. The director showed that shortly before the start of the match between Argentina and Peru, General Videla and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger went to the Peruvian team’s locker room to talk about solidarity. and Latin American unity, which has been interpreted by some players as an act of political pressure.

There was also speculation about the donation of thousands of tons of wheat to the Peruvian government just after the rout.

In 2008, Ricardo Gotta published “We Were Champions: Dictatorship, 78th World Cup and Mystery 6-0 in Peru”, in which he deals with these and other speculations, with evidence that points to the existence intermittent corruption. field.

It is recalled that in 1978, Peru was ruled by General Francisco Morales Bermúdez, then head of the self-proclaimed Peruvian “revolutionary government of the armed forces”. In itself, this was a troubled period in the country’s history.

In 2012, the former Peruvian senator Genaro Ledesma (1931-2018) denounced that the 6-0 rout would have been part of an agreement between the military governments of the two countries, which would also include financial aid and political cooperation. Nothing has been proven.

In 2018, in an interview with Peruvian newspaper Trome, former player José Velásquez (“El Patrón”) said six Peruvian players took part in the match, citing names. But it was not clear how this “delivery” he was referring to had played out.

It was also reported that the officials of the Brazilian national team offered money to the Peruvian team so as not to lose the game by more than three goals (the famous “white suitcase”), this that would lead Brazil to the Cup final. It is easy to conclude that the Brazilian proposal was not accepted by the Peruvians.

Another possibility that cannot be ruled out is that the Argentina national team played one of their best matches in the history of World Cup participation, having won the match on the pitch without outside interference.

In this case, Videla and Kissinger’s visit to the Peruvian locker room would have been a simple good offices visit. This assumption is reinforced by the convincing victory of Argentina in the final against the Netherlands.

Either way, there is a lot of speculation. But there is no proof, just personal testimony. I think all of the above assumptions are plausible.

In conclusion, it is worth making a brief reflection on the relationship between politics and football in South America, where football is an instrument historically used by government officials to promote self-image and gain popular prestige.

Brazil’s 1970 World Cup title in Mexico had very similar repercussions as Argentina’s 1978 title. In both cases, governments used football to revitalize their political legitimacy and mask the weaknesses of the game. ‘economy.

Argentina, already democratized, returned to political use of football with the title at the 1986 World Cup, also in Mexico, revitalizing the image of the country until then eroded by the defeat in the Falklands War in 1982.

Many believe that Maradona’s (1960-2020) goal against England, popularized as “La Mano de Dios”, was some sort of English surrender, the result of an allegorical association between politics and football.

Much of the history of the relations between politics and football is the result of the testimonies – oral history – of those who took part in the events.

In this logic, time is a fundamental variable to consider. Over the years, the characters in the story cease to exist, and with this the natural phenomenon of “file burning” occurs.

There are countless debates that enter the orbit of speculation and conjecture, with a departure from the reality of the facts.

In this area full of uncertainties, it is plausible to admit that football – in South America and in other regions – risks being instrumentalized for the benefit of populism, distracting the population’s attention from its real issues. .

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